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lyzard's list - hoping for 100 in 2012 - Part 2

This is a continuation of the topic lyzard's list - hoping for 100 in 2012 - Part 1.

This topic was continued by lyzard's list - hoping for 100 in 2012 - Part 3.

75 Books Challenge for 2012

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Edited: Apr 1, 2012, 12:50am Top

This is the cotton-top tamarin, one of my late father's favourite animals. These small primates are found only in Columbia, and are critically endangered due to habitat destruction and the illegal pet trade.

Edited: Apr 1, 2012, 12:51am Top

So what goes on here?

1. I have a blog, for which I am undertaking a roughly chronological examination of early English (mostly) literature, tracing the development of the novel from the 1660s onwards. This has had the unanticipated side-effect of forcing me into a crash-course in Restoration politics and the Stuarts.

2. Also for my blog, I read novels published between 1751 - 1930, chosen blindly from my wishlist by means of a random number generator. I am also taking a closer look at the complete works (or as complete as possible) of certain authors who have caught my interest for one reason or another.

3. While most novels published prior to 1931 will be reviewed at my blog, with brief comments and links here, for any novel published 1931 onwards I will post a review on this thread. Lately my off-blog reading has been dominated by Silver and Golden Age mysteries.

4. I also read some non-fiction, mostly books-on-books and history or sociology that supports my blog reading.

In other words - if you're looking for discussion of the latest bestsellers, you probably won't find it here. :)

But if you have an interest in the history of the novel, in 18th and 19th century literature, or in the development of the mystery genre, or if you just like discovering or being reminded of authors and books that have slipped through the cracks, you've come to the right place!

Edited: Apr 1, 2012, 12:55am Top


1. The Great Portrait Mystery by R. Austin Freeman (1918)
2. Sick Heart River by John Buchan (1941)
3. The Maxwell Mystery by Carolyn Wells (1913)
4. The Devil And X.Y.Z. by Barum Browne (Hilary St George Saunders and Geoffrey Dennis) (1931)
5. The Voyage Home by Storm Jameson (1930)
6. Susan Spray by Sheila Kaye-Smith (1931)
7. Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers (1927)
8. Without My Cloak by Kate O'Brien (1931)
9. The Castle Of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764)
10. Dr Priestley's Quest by John Rhode (Cecil John Street) (1926)
11. One By One They Disappeared by Moray Dalton (Katherine Mary Dalton Renoir) (1929)


12. Danger Calling by Patricia Wentworth (1931)
13. The Bride Of Anguished English by Richard Lederer (2000)
14. The Novel In Letters: Epistolary Fiction In The Early English Novel 1678-1740 by Natascha Wurzbach (ed.) (1969)
15. The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled by Francis Kirkman (1673)
16. Whigs And Hunters: The Origin Of The Black Act by E. P. Thompson (1975)
17. The Heart Of Midlothian by Walter Scott (1818)
18. The Murders In Praed Street by John Rhode (Cecil John Street) (1928)
19. Mary Lou: A Story Of Divine Corners by Faith Baldwin (1931)
20. Mistress Of The House: Great Ladies And Grand Houses 1670-1830 by Rosemary Baird (2003)
21. Today's Virtue by Faith Baldwin (1931)
22. A Richer Dust by Storm Jameson (1931)


23. The Secret Of High Eldersham by Miles Burton (Cecil John Street) (1930)
24. Helen Vardon's Confession by R. Austin Freeman (1922)
25. Anybody But Anne by Carolyn Wells (1914)
26. Lord Peter Views The Body by Dorothy L. Sayers (1928)
27. The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1767)
28. The House On Tollard Ridge by John Rhode (Cecil John Street) (1929)
29. The Brooklyn Murders by G. D. H. Cole (1923)
30. Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy: A Casebook by Thomas Keymer (ed.) (2006)
31. The Mystery Of The Thirteenth Floor by Lee Thayer (1919)
32. The Gothic Flame by Devendra P. Varma (1957)
33. The Path Of Love by Norma Octavia Lorimer (1921)
34. Week-End At Hurtmore by Mary Lutyens (1954)

Edited: Jun 28, 2012, 1:13am Top


35. The Gothic Quest: A History Of The Gothic Novel by Montague Summers (1938)
36. The Dead Letter: An American Romance by Metta Fuller Victor (1866)
37. The Figure Eight; or, The Mystery Of Meredith Place by Metta Fuller Victor (1869)
38. The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers (1928)
39. The Sham Prince Expos'd by Anonymous (1688)
40. The Deserted Wife by E.D.E.N. Southworth (1850)
41. The White Alley by Carolyn Wells (1915)
42. At One-Thirty: A Mystery by Isabel Ostrander (1915)
43. The Beacon Hill Murders by Roger Scarlett (Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page) (1930)
44. The Web Of Iniquity: Early Detective Fiction By American Women by Catherine Ross Nickerson (1998)
45. Dr Thorndyke's Casebook by R. Austin Freeman (1923)
46. The Rasp by Philip MacDonald (1924)
47. The Mother by Naomi Royde-Smith (1931)
48. 'Vantage Striker by Helen Simpson (1931)
49. Ruth Fielding Of The Red Mill; or, Jasper Parloe's Secret by Alice B. Emerson (1913)


50. Weston Of The North-West Mounted Police by Trygve Lund (1928)
51. The Curved Blades by Carolyn Wells (1916)
52. The Cat's Eye by R. Austin Freeman (1923)
53. Behind A Mask: The Unknown Thrillers Of Louisa May Alcott by Louisa May Alcott (1975)
54. The Back Bay Murders by Roger Scarlett (Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page) (1930)
55. Up North: A Tale From Northern Canada by Trygve Lund (1929)
56. A Genius For Letters: Booksellers And Bookselling From The 16th To The 20th Century by Robin Myers and Robin Harris (eds.) (1995)
57. The Silent Bullet by Arthur B. Reeve (1910)
58. The Revenge Of Anguished English: More Accidental Assaults Upon Our Language by Richard Lederer (2005)
59. Ruth Fielding Of Briarwood Hall; or, Solving The Campus Mystery by Alice B. Emerson (1913)
60. The Leavenworth Case: A Lawyer's Story by Anna Katharine Green (1878)
61. The Murder Of Dave Brandon by Trygve Lund (1931)
62. Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers (1930)
63. The Unlatched Door by Lee Thayer (1920)
64. The Underwood Mystery by Charles J. Dutton (1921)


65. Clermont by Regina Maria Roche (1798)
66. Green Talons by Gavin Holt (Charles Rodda) (1930)
67. The Trail Of The Serpent by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1860)
68. The Corn King And The Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison (1931)
69. Rachel Moon by Lorna Rea (1931)
70. Force And Fraud: A Tale Of The Bush by Ellen Davitt (1865)
71. The Pleasantries Of Old Quong by Thomas Burke (1931)
72. At The Villa Rose by A. E. W. Mason (1910)

Edited: Jun 28, 2012, 6:48pm Top

Books in transit:

On interlibrary loan / storage request:
The Fleet Hall Inheritance by Richard Keverne
The Patient In Room 18 by Mignon G. Eberhart
Murder At Marble Arch by Gavin Holt
The Link by Philip MacDonald
Mad Puppetstown by M. J. Farrell (Molly Keane)

Purchased and shipped:
The Body In The Road by Moray Dalton
The Davidson Case by John Rhode
The Octoroon; or, The Lily Of Louisiana by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
About The Murder Of Geraldine Foster by Anthony Abbot

On loan:
The Old English Baron by Clara Reeve
The Trail Of The Serpent by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
The Chinaberry Tree by Jessie Redmon Fauset
Penhally by Caroline Gordon
The Harbourmaster by William McFee
*The Pleasantries Of Old Quong by Thomas Burke
*At The Villa Rose by A. E. W. Mason
Plots And Counterplots: More Unknown Thrillers Of Louisa May Alcott by Madeleine Stern (ed.)
The Innocence Of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier
The Fruit On The Bough by Ursula Bloom

Track down:
The Mystery Of The Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux
John Devil by Paul Feval
The Mystery Of A Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume
Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary Sleuths And Their Shared Passion by Madeleine Stern and Leona Rostenberg

Edited: Jun 28, 2012, 1:31am Top

Ongoing series:

**(1878 - 1917) Anna Katharine Green - Ebenezer Gryce - A Strange Disappearance (2/12) {ManyBooks}
**(1897 - 1900) Anna Katharine Green - Amelia Butterworth - That Affair Next Door (1/3) {Fisher Library}
**(1906 - 1908) Mary Roberts Rinehart - Cornelia Van Gorder - The Man In Lower Ten (1/2) {interlibrary loan}
*(1907 - 1942) R. Austin Freeman - Dr John Thorndyke - The Mystery Of Angelina Frood (10/26) {ePub eBook editions}
*(1909 - 1942) Carolyn Wells - Fleming Stone - The Mark Of Cain (8/49) {Internet Archive}
*(1910 - 1936) Arthur B. Reeve - Craig Kennedy - The Poisoned Pen (2/11) {ManyBooks}
*(1910 - 1946) A. E. W. Mason - Inspector Hanaud - The House Of The Arrow (2/5) {Fisher Library}
*(1911 - 1935) G. K. Chesterton - Father Brown - The Innocence Of Father Brown (1/5) {Fisher Library}
*(1911 - 1937) Mary Roberts Rinehart - Letitia Carberry - The Amazing Adventures Of Letitia Carberry (1/5) {Internet Archive}
*(1913 - 1934) Alice B. Emerson - Ruth Fielding - Ruth Fielding At Snow Camp (3/30) {ManyBooks}
*(1919 - 1966) Lee Thayer - Peter Clancy - That Affair At "The Cedars" (3/60) {Internet Archive}
*(1920 - 1939) E. F. Benson - Mapp And Lucia - Lucia's Progress (5/6) {Fisher Library}
**(1921 - 1929) Charles J. Dutton - John Bartley - Out Of The Darkness (2/9) {Internet Archive}
*(1923 - 1937) Dorothy L. Sayers - Lord Peter Wimsey - Five Red Herrings (7/15) {Fisher Library}
*(1924 - 1959) ***Philip MacDonald - Colonel Anthony Gethryn - The Link (3/24) {academic loan}
*(1924 - 1957) Freeman Willis Crofts - Inspector French - Inspector French's Greatest Case (1/30) {interlibrary loan}
*(1925 - 1961) ***John Rhode - Dr Priestley - The Davidson Case (7/72) {Amazon}
*(1925 - 1953) G. D. H. Cole / M. Cole - Superintendent Wilson - The Death Of A Millionaire (2/?) {academic loan}
*(1925 - 1937) Hulbert Footner - Madame Storey - The Under Dogs (1/8) {ePub eBook editions}
*(1928 - 1961) Patricia Wentworth - Miss Silver - The Case Is Closed (2/33) {branch transfer}
*(1928 - 1936) ***Gavin Holt - Luther Bastion - Murder At Marble Arch (4/17) {academic loan}
(1928 - ????) Trygve Lund - Weston of the Royal North-West Mounted Police - In The Snow: A Romance Of The Canadian Backwoods (4/?) {AbeBooks}
(1928 - 1936) Kay Cleaver Strahan - Lynn MacDonald - The Desert Moon Mystery (1/7) {AbeBooks}
(1929 - 1947) Margery Allingham - Albert Campion - Sweet Danger (5/35) {Fisher Library}
(1929 - 1984) Gladys Mitchell - Mrs Bradley - The Saltmarsh Murders (4/67) {interlibrary loan}
(1929 - 1937) ***Patricia Wentworth - Benbow Smith - Walk With Care (3/4)
*(1929 - ????) Moray Dalton - Inspector Collier - The Body In The Road (2/?) {Amazon}
*(1929 - ????) Mignon Eberhart - Nurse Sarah Keate - The Patient In Room 18 (1/?) {interlibrary loan}
(1930 - 1932) Hugh Walpole - The Herries Chronicles - The Fortress (3/4) {Fisher Library}
(1930 - 1932) Faith Baldwin - The Girls Of Divine Corners - Myra: A Story Of Divine Corners (4/4) {owned}
(1930 - 1960) ***Miles Burton - Desmond Merrion - The Milk-Churn Murder (10/61) {Munsey's}
*(1930 - 1933) Roger Scarlett - Inspector Kane - Cat's Paw (3/5)
*(1930 - 1941) Harriette Ashbrook - Philip "Spike" Tracy - The Murder Of Cecily Thane (1/7) {AbeBooks}
*(1930 - 1943) Anthony Abbot - Thatcher Colt - About The Murder Of Geraldine Foster (1/8) {AbeBooks}
*(1930 - ????) ***David Sharp - Professor Henry Arthur Fielding - My Particular Murder (2/?) {AbeBooks}
(1931 - 1940) Bruce Graeme - Superintendent Stevens and Pierre Allain - A Murder Of Some Importance (1/8) {AbeBooks}
(1931 - 1951) Phoebe Atwood Taylor - Asey Mayo - Death Lights A Candle (2/24) {interlibrary loan}
(1931 - 1933) ***Martin Porlock - Charles Fox-Browne - Mystery In Kensington Gore (2/3)
(1931 - 1955) Stuart Palmer - Hildegarde Withers - Murder On Wheels (2/18) {AbeBooks}
(1931 - 1951) Olive Higgins Prouty - The Vale Novels - Lisa Vale (2/5) {academic loan}
(1932 - 1950) Mary Roberts Rinehart - Hilda Adams - The Double Alibi (1/3) {Fisher Library}

*** Incompletely available series
** Series complete pre-1931
* Present status pre-1931

Apr 1, 2012, 6:14am Top

Hi Liz. Congratulations on catching up with some blog reviews (Bartholomew Sapskull sounded very painful) and starting a new thread.

#1 I've seen the tamarins in zoos and they are very cute. So sad to think they're so endangered.

#6 Your list of ongoing series is shorter than I expected but then there are some very large series in there! 67 Gladys Mitchell books and 49 by Carolyn Wells... I've just finished a couple of Sayers' books which made me think of you as they kept referring to the Thorndyke books.

Going back to your reviews on your last thread - your review of The Path Of Love was very amusing and it will almost certainly be a book I avoid reading.

Off to check out the Tristam Shandy thread.

Apr 1, 2012, 8:24am Top

Great picture! What an interesting looking creature, and love his little mohawk :)

Edited: Apr 1, 2012, 6:33pm Top

Hi, Heather! Yes, very glad to be finally up-to-date on the blog. Sapskull was pretty awful, but it was strangely amusing to read the real Tristram Shandy just afterwards. Now I have to get myself ready to plunge back into the politics of the 1680s.

You can expect to see the series list grow as I have already eliminated most of the short ones, and keep stumbling into more. :)

I seem to be the only person around here who habitually fires negative book bullets! Oh, well - I suppose that's a service, too!

Hi, Chelle! Cotton-top tamarins are the punk rockers of the animal world! :)

Apr 1, 2012, 7:39pm Top

Caught up on your new thread. That was easily done. Catching up on the old one may take longer.

Are there really as many as 24 in the Sayers Wimsey series? I can only see 13... plus some short stories.

Apr 1, 2012, 10:23pm Top

Hi, Genny!

Perhaps you're right - I copied that from somewhere... It may have been including the "follow up" novels? I will look into it and check.

Apr 1, 2012, 10:57pm Top

Love the tamarin photo! He's so adorable, I want to give him a bit snuggle and pat his poofy hair...

Edited: Apr 2, 2012, 11:22pm Top

Hi, Faith - thanks for stopping by! Yes, gorgeous, aren't they?? :)

Apr 2, 2012, 11:23pm Top

Sentence of the day:

"The Capuchin is racked with concupiscence."

---Montague Summers, The Gothic Quest

Apr 3, 2012, 6:20pm Top

Finished The Gothic Quest, which was started 28th March and so fits the TIOLI "spring cleaning" challenge - huzzah!

Now reading The Dead Letter by Metta Fuller Victor for TIOLI #11.

Apr 4, 2012, 6:20pm Top

Finished The Dead Letter - now reading another novel by Metta Fuller Victor which is bound in the same copy, The Figure Eight; or, the Mystery Of Meredith Place. This is also for TIOLI #11.

Edited: Apr 5, 2012, 7:21am Top

Finished The Figure Eight for TIOLI #11 - review to come.

Now reading The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers, the fifth Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, for TIOLI #1.

Apr 5, 2012, 11:26am Top

#14 "The Capuchin is racked with concupiscence."

Following the discussion about tamarins I got rather confused and first read this as applying to capuchin monkeys until I saw where the quote had come from!

I read a couple of Sayers' Peter Wimsey books last weekend and there were quite a few references to Dr. Thorndyke which made me think of you :-)

Apr 5, 2012, 5:04pm Top

Actually, that briefly crossed my mind, too! (Summers has just spent some time pointing out errors in Protestant writers' use of Catholic terminology.)

I know there are some overt references to the Thorndykes, but there's also a subtle but ongoing jokey reference in the Sayers books which I think may be another: whenever a case is going particularly well, Thorndyke celebrates by smoking a Trichinopoly cigar, as his companions cry out in protest against the horrible thing.

I've now noticed in several books that Trichinopolies are a particular aversion of Lord Peter's, too:

"The Cockburn '86 always tastes a lot better in company - discernin' company, that is. Once knew a fellow who polluted it with a Trichinopoly. He was not asked again. Eight months later, he committed suicide. I don't say it was on that account. But he was ear-marked for a bad end, what?"

Edited: Apr 15, 2012, 9:53pm Top

The Gothic Quest: A History Of The Gothic Novel - Talk about one extreme to the other! If Devendra P. Varma's The Gothic Flame is an unsatisfyingly narrow examination of the rise and fall of the Gothic novel during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Montague Summers' The Gothic Quest is an undeniable case of Too Much Information. It is somewhat alarming to consider that this dense work represents only the first of two planned volumes on the subject; Summers died before making significant progress with the second, in which he intended to offer detailed analyses of the writing of some dozen or more Gothic novelists.

Summers' infatuation with the Gothic novel began when he was only a boy and, as is often the case with first loves, he retains a tenderness for the genre that clearly impacts upon his critical judgement. However, I find myself very much in sympathy with his assertion that if a book entertains, it has justified its existence - even if it is as far from "great literature" as it well could be. Like most critics in this area, Summers lauds Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Gregory Lewis as the leading lights of the Gothic novel, whose novels represent the two artistic extremes of the genre. Summers offers a lengthy consideration of Lewis's life and career, justifying this digression on the grounds that (in 1938) no proper biography of him had yet been written; an omission he puts down to critical discomfort with Lewis's homosexuality. In literary terms, Summers does what Varma failed to do and examines the influence of Radcliffe and Lewis upon the Gothic novelists who followed them, and how other writers adapted their models to their own purposes. Summers is sufficiently well-read in this area to be able to argue knowledgeably for the merits of some of the "lesser" Gothic novelists, including Francis Lathom, Isabella Kelly, Elizabeth Helme, T. J. Horsley Curties, C. A. Bolen and Regina Maria Roche, and summarises several individual novels whose obscurity he decries.

While this study does offer a much broader, and much more affectionate, consideration of the Gothic novel than Devendra Varma's far more scholarly offering, it occasionally gets completely carried away with its subject. For example, to illustrate the sudden explosion in the number of Gothic novels published at certain times, Summers simply includes entire paragraphs full of book titles listed by publication date. He uses the same approach to show how certain catch-words were used to assure readers of the "Gothic-ness" of works, offering lengthy lists of books with the word "forest", "cavern", "tower" or "castle" in their titles. Surrounding his main subject, Summers offers well-considered chapters on both the rise of the historical novel during the 18th century and the romantic, supernatural and criminal fiction of France and Germany, which together played a significant part in the development of the English Gothic novel. Further from the point, although sufficiently interesting in their own right, are sections on the rise and fall of the circulating library, and the evolution of book-binding.

Unfortunately, however, The Gothic Quest closes with a chapter attacking the Surrealist movement, which in the 1930s laid claim to the psychological aspects of the Gothic novel as lying within its own purview - and was, by the way, largely responsible for reawakening interest in this then-forgotten genre. Summers was so offended by this co-opting of "his" Gothic novels by a movement of which he profoundly disapproved that he retaliates with an hysterical rebuttal that disturbingly prefigures the deliberate abuse of language in today's political arena: Surrealism = Communism = Socialism = Atheism. He then finds it necessary to assure us of the "correct" (i.e. Christian / conservative) beliefs of each and every Gothic novelist - even going so far as to insist that Ann Radcliffe's husband was not a liberal, despite what he himself said - but only succeeds in making them sound like a collection of the most appalling snobs and elitists. It is hard not to cringe while reading this embarrassing piece of self-exposure, which tells us nothing at all about the Gothic novel, and much more than we wanted to know about Montague Summers' prejudices.

The Gothic novel was a power in the land, and its votaries were drawn from all classes, high and low. With Mrs Radcliffe, with Monk Lewis and Maturin, to mention no other names, it touched genius. It was able to sink to bathos and the most formal absurdity, although I am bound to acknowledge that it the whole course of my reading of fiction of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which has involved not a little delving in dusty and forgotten corners, I have never come across any novel, however feeble, however immature, which can be deemed such dreary and dead rubbish as are only too many of our modern trite and yawny novels.

Edited: Apr 5, 2012, 7:58pm Top

I don't want to dwell on that final chapter of Montague Summers', but---it really does come like a bolt from the blue. The tone of much of The Gothic Quest is friendly and chatty, albeit with occasional digressions to criticise critics for being too critical (if you follow me) - and then suddenly we're confronted by the literary equivalent of a three year old clutching a favoured toy and shrieking, "Mine! Mine! Mine!"

At the other end of the spectrum - and the other end of the book - it's impossible not to smile at Summers' account of his boyhood discovery of Gothic novels and the lifelong passion that grew from it. Consider this passage - which I commend particularly to those of you familiar with Northanger Abbey:

I now recognise that I began my acquaintance with Mrs Radcliffe---an acquaintance that was soon to warm to affection, and then to love---from Limbaud's edition of 1824. A schoolboy friend---we were not in our teens---lent me a copy of The Bravo Of Venice he had picked up on some twopenny stall. The Monk was not to follow until some years later. Next I was attracted by a title, Manfrone; or, The One-Handed Monk, the four volumes of which I espied in a dingy little shop, and soon proudly possessed for one shilling. Thus I may be said to have been fairly started on my Gothic career. Very early too do I remember Horrid Mysteries, to which I did not make my way via Jane Austen, for when I came to read Northanger Abbey, how delighted I was to find the recommendation of sweet Miss Andrews...

Apr 5, 2012, 10:06pm Top

That's a great Northanger Abbey reference, Liz. You keep writing the reviews, and I'll keep reading them. Thanks!

Edited: Apr 9, 2012, 10:15pm Top

Those of you who visit my threads regularly would know that I have an interest in the development of the mystery novel - or rather, more correctly, of detective fiction, as for a long time the term "mystery novel" had quite different connotations than it has today. As I look further and further back to the roots of the genre, I'm also becoming interested in the quite distinct paths followed by the early writers of detective fiction in England and America; a case of parallel evolution, if you will, which seems to reflect the similarly distinct social conditions of the two countries.

Recently I came across an article on landmark works in the timeline of detective fiction, and in it, at a tantalisingly early point, was a name I didn't know: Metta Fuller Victor. Part of the reason for Victor's unjustified obscurity seems to have been her fondness for pseudonyms. She was a prolific author who wrote in a number of genres, and preferred to use a different pseudonym for each - keeping her own name for her acceptably "domestic" works, and using a false name for her more contentious efforts. Among these we can class - along with her novels denouncing alcolholism, slavery, and polygamy - her two detective novels.

It is commonly said that the first American detective novel was Anna Katharine Green's The Leavenworth Case, which was published in 1878. However, it now seems more correct to say that Green's novel was the first to display most of the features that today we take for granted in our mysteries - since in 1866 and 1869, respectively, writing under the name "Seeley Regester", Metta Fuller Victor published The Dead Letter: An American Romance and The Figure Eight; or, The Mystery Of Meredith Place, the former of which goes close to being the first of all modern detective novels, with only Paul Feval's Jean Diable, from 1862, challenging for the title.

In 2003, the Duke University Press revived and re-printed Victor's landmark novels in a single volume. Both The Dead Letter and The Figure Eight centre around a murder, the latter a robbery as well; and both tell the story of the long and painstaking hunt for the killer. However, neither novel is the "pure" detective fiction with which we are familiar today, but include unexpected touches such as clairvoyance and somnambulism, which tie them to the contemporary sensation novels of Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon and the like, and even throw back to the Gothic novel.

Detective fiction - as distinct from crime fiction - tends to be set amongst "nice" people, with much of its tension emanating from the characters' realisation that the guilty party is "one of us". In these novels of Metta Victor's, which explicitly refer to their characters as being of "the respectable classes", we find an attitude that would persist in American detective fiction until well into the 20th century: the belief that a crime in the family, even murder, is a private affair. These novels focus not upon the solving of the murder, as such, but upon the effect of the murder on those closest to it; it must be solved not in the interests of law and order, but so that normality may be resumed. The private detective, or even the amateur, is the investigator of choice in these novels because such individuals are under no obligation to arrest the guilty party, but offer the option of allowing the criminal to go free and so hushing up the scandal.

I am finding the desperate avoidance of the police and the official legal system in these early American detective fictions increasingly interesting. There is a clear inference throughout all these stories that the police are only fit for dealing with the criminal classes, and that to investigate a crime amongst respectable people, one must also be respectable. Indeed, in Victor's two novels the elucidation of the crimes depends upon an understanding of class-related behaviour and motivation that can only come from the inside. This is a far cry from what we see in the British fiction of the same period, where the good intentions - and the discretion - of Scotland Yard are taken for granted, where the most idiosyncratic of private investigators is usually hand-in-glove with the police, and where even a policeman can be expected to behave like a gentleman. Clearly, we must be careful in extrapolating our expectations from one country to the other...

...which I suppose is one way of saying I may indeed have been too hard upon Carolyn Wells, and her seemingly ridiculous "optional" murder investigations. I make the lady my apologies, and promise to keep a more open mind in future.

Apr 5, 2012, 10:54pm Top

>>#22 Deal! :)

Apr 5, 2012, 11:28pm Top

Liz, I really enjoyed your discussion of the origins of the detective novel. I have never heard of either Metta Fuller or Anna Katherine Green. I had always heard that Edgar Allan Poe was the father of the detective story, but clearly that's not quite true, is it? Thanks for expanding my mind a little.

Edited: Apr 5, 2012, 11:45pm Top

Hi! Thanks for stopping by. :)

As for Poe, it is true and it isn't - he is indeed a critical figure in the development of the mystery / detective genre, but he wrote short stories - as did many of his followers, culminating in Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. The development of the mystery novel was a separate event with quite different influences (Poe was actually more influential in Europe than America or England), and often with the investigation of a crime just one aspect of the story (as in Metta Victor's works). It was some considerable time before the mystery became the whole purpose of a mystery novel.

These days, of course, a lot of writers have swung back to the earlier point of view. That's why you so often hear people judging mysteries, particularly cosy mysteries, by their characters as much as - or even rather than - by their plots.

Apr 5, 2012, 11:54pm Top

Ah yes, I hadn't quite taken in the short story vs. novel difference. I think I need to look for that reissued Victor volume. It would be quite interesting to read and compare to more contemporary detective stories.

To me, the incredible number of mystery series is a testament to how much more people value character development over plot these days. Once an author has taken the time to create memorable and interesting characters, no one wants them to just go away after one book. The catch, of course, is maintaining the quality in book after book after book after ...

Apr 6, 2012, 12:10am Top

The importance of the short story is that it developed the idea of the mystery story being "about" the detective - which is finally the main thing that the mystery novel carried over, at least once the series was invented. After all, if you're going to have book after book after book..., you have to find a reasonable excuse for someone to repeatedly end up knee-deep in corpses. :)

Edited: Apr 6, 2012, 1:12am Top

The Dead Letter: An American Romance - As a boy, Richard Redfield is taken under the wing of his late father's business partner, Mr Argyll, and brought up to the law, with the offer of a partnership in the future. Richard thus becomes the natural enemy of Mr Argyll's nephew, James, who, although indolent and pleasure-seeking, resents Richard taking "his" place. Further emnity between the two has its roots in their mutual love for Mr Argyll's elder daughter. Eleanor is, however, blissfully engaged to a young man called Henry Moreland - who shortly before their wedding is found dead, stabbed in the back... The same morning, Mr Argyll discovers that he has been robbed of two thousand dollars from the drawer in his study. Richard and James travel to New York to secure the services of a private investigator named Burton. The investigation turns up tantalising hints but few hard facts; but over time, Richard realises that the Argyll family's suspicions have turned towards him. Cruelly hurt, he withdraws from their vicinity and strikes out on his own, giving up the law and securing a clerkship in the Dead Letter Office in Washington D. C. He is conducting his normal duties when he comes across an ambiguous letter headed "Peekskill, New York, October, 1857", the time and place of the murder, and becomes convinced he has found the key to the mystery - and to clearing his name...

Metta Fuller Victor's first detective novel is more successful in depicting the painful consequences of murder than it is in creating a satisfying mystery - although it may be reasonably argued that she achieved in this book exactly what she set out to. While the identity of the guilty party is evident enough to the reader, if not to most of the characters, proving it is another matter entirely. In the meantime, the unsolved crime becomes a festering wound on the souls of all those touched by it, and relationships are poisoned as suspicion grows even between the most loving of friends. The horror and the misery of Richard Redfield, as he realises that the Argylls have come to believe him guilty of Henry Moreland's murder, and that the people he has long regarded as his family have closed ranks against him, is movingly depicted. The earnest young romantic becomes, as a consequence, a bitter and solitary misanthrope - until a twist of fate places the key to his vindication in his hands.

These days, we are, I think, more likely to recognise the differences between The Dead Letter and contemporary detective fiction than their points of similarity. In the absence of even the most rudimentary tools of the modern detective, the investigation becomes a matter of eyewitness testimony, assertion and counter-assertion, and the skilfully drawn inference - although persistence and legwork certainly play their part, too. However, working in conjunction with these prosaic approaches to crime investigation we have the almost mystical talents of Burton - his ability to sense a person's true nature, and his skill in interpreting character from handwriting - which take this novel beyond the bounds of standard detective fiction; although not so far as does Burton's young daughter, Lenore, who is clairvoyant, and is able to "find people" from items placed in her hands once she has been hypnotised. In startling touches such as these, the relationship of the early detective fiction to the sensation novel of the time is very evident. The other aspects of this novel which make this connection clear are the broad, dramatic strokes with which the characters of the two women who loved Henry Moreland, Eleanor Argyll and her working-class rival, Leesy Sullivan, are drawn, and the prominent role played by coincidence in the solving of the murder - although in the context of this story, "coincidence" is another word for Providence.

Apart from its inherent entertainment, The Dead Letter offers an intriguing glimpse of mid-19th century America; a pre-Civil War America, although the novel was written later. Details that contemporary readers would have taken for granted, such as the workings of public transport at the time and the geography of New York - social as well as actual - are vividly sketched. Perhaps the most interesting section of the novel comes towards its conclusion, when Richard and Burton set out to pursue a suspect to California - and must go by boat, and overland across Panama, there being no transcontinental railway, still less a canal. But even while entertaining the reader, The Dead Letter never loses sight of a more serious purpose. Though Richard is able to re-establish himself and at length find happiness again, the others touched by the murder - Eleanor, Leesy, Mr Argyll, James, even Burton - have their lives irrevocably changed and darkened; a grim conclusion that may surprise those readers accustomed to the light tone and casual attitude of the "Golden Age" mysteries that were the eventual descendents of novels such as this.

Half the night I sat brooding over that brief revelation, so precious to me, yet so loathsome... The hand of an overruling Providence seemed to be moving the men in this terrible game. At that hour I recognized it, and felt a solemn conviction that, sooner or later, the murderer would be checkmated. It was this assurance, more than any evidence contained in the letter, which gave me hope that it would eventually be the instrument of punishment to the guilty.

Edited: May 20, 2012, 8:49pm Top

The Figure Eight; or, The Mystery Of Meredith Place - Dr Meredith is found dead in his study, having with his last strength scrawled an almost illegible message in which the figure eight is prominent. The cause of death is prussic acid in a glass of wine. At first it is felt that Dr Meredith may have committed suicide, but when a locked-box of gold ingots is found stolen, it is clear that he has been murdered. Suspicion fastens upon Joe Meredith, the doctor's nephew, who was taken into the household as a charity case some years earlier after the death of his black sheep father. As public anger grows over the brutal crime, Joe realises it is only a matter of time before he is arrested - or worse. He flees, vowing to himself that he will nevertheless find a way of discovering the murderer and thief, and to watch over his lovely cousin, Lillian. Doubling back on his trail, Joe conceals himself with Gram'me Hooker, an elderly woman living on the Meredith estate. From his hiding-place, Joe keeps the household under observation, trying to determine who the guilty party might be: Miss Miller, Lillian's governess, who hoped to marry Dr Meredith? Inez, the young Cuban wife brought back from California? Arthur Miller, Miss Miller's brother, who Lillian is expected to marry? And were the murder and the robbery one crime or two?

Published in 1869, Metta Fuller Victor's second detective story is a stronger work than its predecessor, both in terms of its mystery, and the organisation of its narrative. The story is told by Joe Meredith, whose early years were spent in hardship and poverty under the erratic care of his gambler father. Taken in while still a boy by Dr Meredith, Joe feels himself an unwelcome, alien presence in his uncle's ordered house, and behaves accordingly; and it is only his shy admiration for his beautiful cousin, which later ripens into love, which smooths away some of his rough edges. At seventeen Joe bolts, enlisting to serve in the Mexican-American War. When - having nowhere else to go - he later returns to Meredith Place, older than his years and with an incapacitated right arm, he makes a concerted effort to fit in, living quietly and studying medicine under his uncle's tutorage. But it is a case of "give a dog a bad name", and when Dr Meredith is found murdered and robbed, fingers are immediately pointed at the son of a dishonest father. The townspeople are in the mood for a lynching, as Joe recognises, and he flees because he must. Yet the thought of Lillian, an unprotected orphan and - though she herself has not yet realised it - penniless, after the theft of the hard-earned gold that was to pay off the mortgages and restore the Merediths to comfort, keeps Joe in the neighbourhood in spite of the danger. Hiding in Gram'me Hooker's comfortless cottage, he devotes himself to identifying the killer and the thief, whether they are one person or two, so as to clear his name and restore Lillian's position.

Many benefits accrue to this novel through Joe Meredith's narration, which is as different in tone as it could be from that provided by the naive Richard Redfield in The Dead Letter. Joe's hang-dog attitude, his justified sense of persecution and the pain of his secret love for Lillian combine to darken the whole feel of this book. The other major benefit of the story being told through Joe's eyes is the many shades of grey it throws over the character of Miss Miller. As a boy, Joe regards her with hostility, and we see her as he sees her: as a hard, untrustworthy woman, unfit to be Lillian's companion, scheming to take the place of the saintly Mrs Meredith, Lillian's late mother. But as Joe's vision matures, Miss Miller emerges through this smokescreen as an intelligent, passionate woman who is genuinely in love with Dr Meredith, and whose life is blighted by his second marriage. Yet Joe never comes to trust her; while we are left in no doubt that, were she to take to crime, Miss Miller would have both the brains and the nerves for it. It seems evident that the murderer and the thief must be found amongst Miss Miller; Inez Meredith, the overly emotional girl left on Dr Meredith's hands when her father died of fever in the Californian gold-fields, whom he married because he couldn't think what else to do with her; and the facile Arthur, who courts Lillian and flirts desperately with Inez, but deserts them both for a wealthy woman when the gold disappears; but which of them is guilty, and how guilty, Joe is unable to decide.

Joe Meredith is as closest thing to a detective that this "detective novel" has, and he does eventually solve the mystery of the missing gold, and determine the meaning of the dying Dr Meredith's scrawling of the figure eight; but the unmasking of the murderer carries this novel out of the realm of detective fiction and into that of the sensation novel. As was the case with The Dead Letter, Metta Victor includes in this story a number of strange, almost supernatural touches, including a clock that in the wake of Dr Meredith's death will only strike eight. Meanwhile, Miss Miller is a somnambulist, who both walks and talks in her sleep, living a separate life of which she has no memory in her waking hours. More broadly, the novel offers another intriguing glimpse of the America of the 1850s, with touches like the fugitive Joe destroying the single daguerrotype of himself that exists, so that the police will not be able to recognise him. There's also the worrying fact that Joe spends much of this book practising medicine without full training, let alone formal qualifications---although perhaps that was a reality at the time.

Yet for all its undoubted entertainment, there is a discomforting aspect to this book, one which was also present, although to a much lesser degree, in The Dead Letter: its prejudice against people of Spanish extraction, particularly women. Inez is dishonest, violently jealous and incapable of self-control - like all women of her race, we are assured, who "are not notoriously good, {and} had never been trained...to the practice of those high and stern principles of honor and right which were regarded as the natural heritage of my countrywomen." When Inez's cousin, Don Miguel de Almeda, is introduced to Lillian, he is struck not only by her beauty, but her conduct: "this moral charm...fascinated one accustomed to finding women impulsive, selfish and trifling." These two novels clearly posit Mexico, Cuba and even California as the realm of a dangerous "other", which threatens American security, and even its purity - although interestingly, the threat is perceived as moral rather than racial. While these uncomfortable passages may be reflective of the upheaval and uncertainty of the post-Civil War period, when these novels were written, it seems strange to reflect that they were the work of a committed abolitionist and social reformer.

On my table lay a letter which I had written to Lillian: "Think of me as you will, cousin Lillian. I swear to you, by the memory of your dead mother, that I am innocent. It is solely in your interest that I take the step I do. I leave you what little money I have---three hundred dollars... It is yours by right. Be very saving of it, for you do not yet realize what is is to be both penniless and friendless..." The clock in the lower hall struck twelve:---no, it did not, but should have struck twelve. Its silver peal rang like an alarum through the intense stillness, and seemed such to my strained, excited ear. I was not aware that I was counting the chimes, but when a dull silence ensued after the hammer had tolled eight strokes, my pulse stopped as suddenly as the clock.

Edited: Apr 9, 2012, 11:04pm Top

Finished The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club for TIOLI #1 - review to follow.

Now reading...hmm... A few possibilities beckon. I'll get back to you about that.


Right - here's one out of left field - a little blog reading (as the touchstone comes and goes, sigh):

The Sham Prince Expos'd. In a Dialogue between the Popes Nuncio and Bricklayers Wife. Nurse to the Supposed Prince of Wales, an anonymous political pamphlet from 1688.

Observation: They weren't very big on the possessive apostrophe in 1688.

Apr 7, 2012, 9:29am Top

Well, most people now don't know how to use the possessive apostrophe properly, so, really, little has changed!

Apr 7, 2012, 5:50pm Top

No, but I'm guess I'm used to considering that a symptom of degenerate modern times! :)

Edited: Apr 9, 2012, 11:03pm Top

Finished The Sham Prince Expos'd - let's see what the touchstones do this time...nope...nope...sigh...yes, but only if I remove the subtitles...an anonymous political pamphlet from 1688 attacking James II, his wife, the Catholic church, and a surprising number of other people. Scurrilous and funny. I'll be blogging this one.

Now reading The Deserted Wife by E.D.E.N. Southworth.

Edited: Apr 15, 2012, 7:55pm Top

The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club - It is Armistice Day. Lord Peter Wimsey is at the Bellona Club to dine with Colonel Marchbanks, the father of a friend killed in action during WWI, when he encounters George Fentimen, who is still suffering the physical and emotional effects of his war-time experiences and bitterly humiliated over being supported by his wife, Sheila, since his own health prevents him from holding down a job. Colonel Marchbanks greets Lord Peter, but then steps across to speak to old General Fentimen, George's grandfather, who is ensconced behind a newspaper in his usual armchair by the fire. After a moment, Marchbanks summons Peter, who finds that the General is not merely dead, but in rigor - except for his left leg. Dr Penberthy confirms that the General has been dead for several hours at least, and goes to the telephone to break the news to Lady Felicity Dormer, his sister - only to return with the news that she died that morning... A serious legal tangle results from the uncertainty over the General's time of death. In spite of a long estrangement, Lady Dormer made her brother her heir, but with reversion of the estate should he die first. Lord Peter agrees to try and determine the General's last movements; a task that proves unexpectedly difficult - so much so, that Peter begins to suspect that there is more to the story than an old man's death by heart failure...

The fifth of Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries is a well-written and plotted mystery, as a mystery; but the murder of General Fentimen is not really what this novel is about. This is a hurt and angry book about hurt and angry people, which captures with wrenching clarity the enduring pain of the veterens of WWI, isolated by their awareness that no-one who was not there can truly understand, not even the veterens of earlier, more "civilised" wars. The rituals and obligations of Armistice Day bring to the surface the memory of experiences that are, for 364 days a year, sternly suppressed in order for something like a normal life to be possible - and for some it is not possible. Under a combination of pressures, the social veneer grows very thin indeed: heated words are spoken; quarrels erupt; and Peter's secret doubts about the morality of his hobby are dragged brutally into the light of day, when he abused to his face as, "An infernal little police spy... Nothing's too dirty for you to meddle in, provided you can pose as the pious little friend of justice." In the wake of this, distance even grows between Peter and Detective Parker, his closest friend and confidante, who, "...was aware of a thin veil of hostility, drawn between himself and the friend he valued. He knew that for the first time, Wimsey was seeing him as the police."

The case offered to Lord Peter by Murbles the solicitor seems straightforward enough: to trace the General's movements on the last day of his life, in an attempt to determine whether he or his sister died first. But what starts out simply as a pleasant puzzle of timing - if, that is, you can ignore the corpse at its centre - grows increasingly complex, as it emerges that during that final day the General kept to not one of his usual habits; while far from making his usual clockwork arrival at the Bellona Club, no-one saw him arrive at all. It is evident from the first that the General's body was tampered with after his death; but when the exhumation and autopsy intended to more closely establish time of death reveals that the General was given an overdose of digitalin, only Lord Peter is not surprised. The obvious suspect is Ann Dorland, Lady Dormer's companion, who stands to inherit the bulk of her estate if the General died first; but on the other hand, if the Fentimen brothers did not know of Lady Dormer's will and the General's potential inheritance, as George for one admits he did not, financial desperation may have driven either of them to "jump the gun". Lord Peter must determine which, if any, of these three is guilty of the General's murder, or whether the real criminal is hiding behind the smokescreen created by the powerful motives of the three potential heirs.

The word "unpleasant" reiterates through the text of The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club, the avoidance of ugly reality inherent in its inapt understatement getting increasingly on Lord Peter's nerves, and helping to create the air of sickness that lingers behind this novel's overt anger. The text dwells on the details of rigor mortis and autopsies; while from the description of discovery of the General's dead body, which is lifted out of the armchair "all of a piece, stiff as a wooden doll", through the miseries of George Fentimen, permanently wounded both physically and mentally, to the self-loathing of Ann Dorland, this is a book in which no-one is quite well - or quite sane. Even Robert Fentimen, George's brother, a bluff professional soldier apparently unaffected by the horrors of war, is suddenly placed before us in a new light, as we see him, "...where the ground was rotten with corpses...potting those swollen rats for a penny a time, and laughing." But there's something else unsettling lurking in the pages of this novel: a deep contempt for the female sex. I do not refer to poor George Fentimen's relentless verbal tirades against his wife, ugly and painful as those are; those we can understand. Rather, it's that the "sane" characters all seem to agree with him. Whether women want or do not want a husband, whether they are interested or not interested in sex, whether they work or do not; whatever they do, they are in the wrong, their lives either selfish or futile. The impression that I bring away from this novel is that it was written during a period of low self-esteen, which Dorothy Sayers tried to exorcise by lashing out. It's all very---well, unpleasant.

"Satisfied?" The doctor stared at him. "Yes, of course. If you mean satisfied as to what he died of, of course I'm satisfied. I shouldn't have given a certificate if I hadn't been satisfied."
"Nothing about the body struck you as queer?"
"What sort of thing?"
"You know what I mean as well as I do," said Wimsey, suddenly turning and looking the other straight in the face. The change in him was almost startling - it was if a steel blade had whipped suddenly out of its velvet scabbard.

Edited: Apr 9, 2012, 6:20pm Top

On the other hand---there is the fact that The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club is another of Dorothy Sayers' booky books.

Late in the novel, Lord Peter and Detective Parker visit the studio of Ann Dorland, trying to get a read on her personality and psychology. Apart from her paintings, from which Parker retreats in horror, leaving their interpretation to Peter, and the paraphernalia of the chemical experimentation in which she used to dabble - Ann is one of the novel's "futile" women - they find her books. While the evidence of her "determined effort at self-education" inevitably draws criticism ("Hardly nice, is it?"), her novel-reading brings on the following exchange:

"Books, you know, Charles, are like lobster-shells. We surround ourselves with 'em, and then we grow out of 'em and leave 'em behind, as evidences of our earliest stages of development."
"That's a fact," said Parker. I've got rows of schoolboy stuff at home - never touch it now, of course. And W. J. Locke - read everything he wrote, once upon a time. And LeQueux, and Conan Doyle, and all that stuff."
"And now you read theology. And what else?"
"Well, I read Hardy a good bit. And when I'm not too tired I have a go at Henry James."
"The refined self-examinations of the infinitely sophisticated. 'M-m."

And Ann? Let's just say that at a later time, we'd probably find her over in the Virago group:

"Dorothy Richardson - Virginia Woolf - E. B. C. Jones - May Sinclair - Katherine Mansfield - the modern female writers are well represented, aren't they? Galsworthy. Yes. No J. D. Beresford - no Wells - no Bennett. Dear me, quite a row of D. H. Lawrence... Compton Mackenzie - Storm Jameson..."

When the detectives discover that Ann has a large collection of crime novels, Parker is inclined to be deeply suspicious...

"Austin Freeman, Austin Freeman, Austin Freeman - bless me! she must have ordered him wholesale. Through The Wall - that's a good 'tec story, Charles - all about the third degree - Isabel Ostrander - three Edgar Wallaces - the girl's been indulging in an orgy of crime!"
"I shouldn't wonder," said Parker, with emphasis. "That fellow Freeman is full of plots about poisonings and wills and survivorship, isn't he?"
"Yes." Wimsey balanced A Silent Witness gently in his hand, and laid it down again. "This one, for instance, is all about a bloke who murdered somebody and kept him in cold storage until he was ready to dispose of him..."

Dorothy Sayers' mentions of other novelists were not always intended complimentarily, but R. Austin Freeman she references regularly and approvingly. Nice to see Patricia Wentworth getting a nod, too. Isabel Ostrander I haven't tried yet.

Apr 9, 2012, 5:40pm Top

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club is a dark one, I agree; there aren't a lot of nice people in it. I think I've attributed that to Sayers' attempt represent the echoes of the war and its lingering, often unrecognized, repercussions. Or not. I have to confess I don't analyze the Lord Peter books too much.

I also agree that the women in this one are not well treated or represented. Sayers have some wonderful female characters (the Dowager Duchess, Miss Climpson, and Harriet Vane, particularly in the later books) but I think you're right that sometimes she doesn't seem to like women.

That was a very thought provoking review. Thanks!

BTW, I rather like Patricia Wentworth, too.

Apr 9, 2012, 6:26pm Top

Yes, I need to get back to Miss Wentworth. I was trying to do her short Benbow Smith series, which is rather good, but the third book is about $350.00 out of my price range. :(

The depiction of post-war society and the horrible pressure on the veterens to pretend that nothing's wrong is wonderfully done and obviously heartfelt. But from the rest of the book I got the same impression that I got from Lord Peter Views The Body - that Sayers is looking down her nose at anyone who didn't have the same opportunities she did.

It did wonder whether, with Harriet on the horizon, she was setting up the women are selfish / useless / pathetic scenario in order to shoot it down. I hope so.

Apr 9, 2012, 6:45pm Top

Me, behind again.

#19 I definitely hadn't picked up on the cigar references - well spotted . The references in Have His Carcase were very overt - characters were saying things like "I didn’t examine them a la Dr. Thorndyke, to see whether they reflected a candle-flame upside-down or right way up".

#20 & 21 Another great review of The Gothic Quest Liz. It does sound interesting but it sounds like The Gothic Flame might be a better introduction? What a shame about the final chapter Summers included.

"for when I came to read Northanger Abbey, how delighted I was to find the recommendation of sweet Miss Andrews..." As I think you commented on the NA tutored read thread, I really wish Austen had written more about the sweet Miss Andrews - she sounds fascinating!

#23 Wow!

"Detective fiction - as distinct from crime fiction - tends to be set amongst "nice" people, with much of their tension emanating from the characters' realisation that the guilty party is "one of us"."

Somehow, despite my teenage obsession with Agatha Christie novels, I'd never properly realised this distinction.

I'd heard of Anna Katherine Green but not Metta Fuller Victor (although if I'd heard of a 19th century author you hadn't heard of I think I'd keel over with the shock!)

#35 Very good review of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club Liz. I didn't pick up on the negative attitude towards women that you mention but later on in the series I'm still trying to puzzle out the character of Harriet Vane who starts to play a larger role in the books. I don't know much about Sayers as a person (must dig out a biography at some point) so I don't really feel like I know enough about her thoughts and beliefs to work out where it's all coming from. I'm enjoying the Wimsey stories but I do feel like there's something about Sayers' books that I'm just not getting...

Edited: Apr 10, 2012, 6:41pm Top

Hi! Glad you finally made it!

Yes, absolutely The Gothic Flame is a better place to start. The Gothic Quest is no book for the novice, or perhaps for anyone. :)

I guess it would have spoiled the joke if we'd seen Miss Andrews for ourselves. However, I'm quite certain that Austen herself saw no inherent contradiction between a love for "horrid novels" and being the sweetest creature in the world.

In many of these early detective fictions, a lot of time is wasted on an attempt to prove that an outsider did / could have done it. In The Dead Letter, the narrator spends most of the story pursuing and persecuting Leesy Sullivan, who he is desperate to believe guilty because she is (i) working-class, and (ii) not part of the family. (I'm sure I don't need to tell you how that works out.) By the Golden Age period, people had mostly gotten over the assumption that their friends and relatives had to be innocent...although the British ones do still play the "wandering tramp" card.

I find Sayers frustrating because I enjoy her novels both as mysteries and stories - but there is just this note in them that makes me clench my teeth.

Though of course, it could just be me. :)

Apr 11, 2012, 6:17pm Top

Finished The Deserted Wife - not a TIOLI, alas. E.D.E.N. Southworth's 1850 novel about the struggle between a spirited woman and the domineering husband who eventually leaves her is very obviously a case of Southworth (herself a deserted wife) working through her issues, and is consequently quite an uncomfortable book. I will be blogging this one.

Now reading The White Alley by Carolyn Wells...and keeping an open mind over Miss Wells' depiction of murder invstigation circa 1915.

Apr 12, 2012, 9:05am Top

I hope you can find a little corner of TIOLI to tuck in that book. What about #8 - Read a book by a different author that is related to another book you've read for TIOLI. If you've read any of these authors from your library for TIOLI - Annie Swan, Augusta Evans, A.L.O.E., or Pansy - there's probably a connection of some kind there. But if not, doesn't that just get your goat? So taken with TIOLI am I, that I try to make every single read fit there, too!

Apr 12, 2012, 6:30pm Top

With TIOLI, I tend to cycle: I'll go through one month where I obsess over it and insist on everything fitting a challenge, and then the next month I feel bad about the books I neglected because they didn't, and not worry about it so much.

Thank you for your suggestion for The Deserted Wife, but as it happens I'm already planning on stretching a point for the "connected to another TIOLI read" challenge, and I don't want to push it too much. :)

Apr 12, 2012, 6:41pm Top

Finished The White Alley, the sixth of Carolyn Wells' Fleming Stone mysteries - again, not a TIOLI - review to come.

Now reading At One-Thirty by Isabel Ostrander, for the "connected to another TIOLI read" challenge, since it was Dorothy Sayers' name-checking of Ostrander in The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club which led me to this book.

Edited: Apr 15, 2012, 8:00pm Top

The White Alley - White Birches, the country home of the wealthy Justin Arnold, sits behind forbidding iron gates and a ten-foot high stone wall topped with broken glass; while the house itself is protected by an elaborate alarm system that makes it impossible for anyone to leave or enter the house undetected. These overdone precautions are a matter of some amusement to visitors, but as a matter of tradition Arnold takes them very seriously; and is, in any event, a man with little sense of humour. Friends and relatives gather to celebrate the engagement of Arnold to Dorothy Duncan, a beautiful girl some years his junior. Dorothy has entered into her engagement in a pragmatic spirit, but finds herself troubled by her growing feeling for Ernest Chapin, Arnold's secretary. The party is disrupted by outbreaks of Arnold's possessive jealousy, which makes him unable to bear Dorothy dancing or even talking to another man; until, exasperated, she warns him that she won't stand for his scolding. After the party, Chapin manages to draw Dorothy aside and makes an impassioned declaration. The two are caught by Arnold, and after Dorothy flees, an ugly scene ensues. The following morning, Justin Arnold cannot be found. His bed has not been slept in, and the burglar alarm makes it certain that either he stayed out all night, or is still in the house somewhere. Fearing an accident, the guests search the house and grounds, but to no avail. Dorothy insists that Arnold has simply gone somewhere on business, but as time passes with no word tensions mount, until finally it is agreed to send for a detective...

This sixth book in Carolyn Wells' Fleming Stone series marks something of a transition. To this point, Wells' mysteries have been all about the puzzle. She favours seemingly impossible crimes, and her novels are generally more interested in how a murder could have been committed than about the creation of believable characters. The White Alley, too, initially follows this pattern. Arnold's own security precautions make it impossible for him to have left the premises undetected, in spite of Dorothy's stubborn insistence that he has gone into town on some urgent business. The nervous party guests come up with various explanations for Arnold's absence that are, one by one, disproved. At this standstill, a detective is summoned. After questioning the guests, James Wheeler leads a search of the house far more thorough than that conducted earlier, and which makes a tragic discovery. The dead body of Justin Arnold is found in the abandoned kitchen area belonging to the original house, wedged inside an unused stone oven; he has been stabbed to death. It is self-evident that one of the house-party must be the murderer, and the coronial inquiry that follows uncovers a damning case against Ernest Chapin, who is subsequently arrested and charged. This crisis forces Dorothy to confront her own feelings and, clinging to her belief in Chapin's innocence, she sends for Fleming Stone.

As a mystery, The White Alley is a bit too simplistic to be satisfying - a case of, "Well, if it wasn't Person A, it must have been Person B." However, the real interest of this book lies in the attempt by Carolyn Wells to move away from what has, to this point, been very much her formula. The focus of this novel is Dorothy, who is another of Wells' "butterflies", a young woman so smugly secure in her own beauty and charm that, frankly, most of the time you feel like slapping her. However, having engaged herself to Justin Arnold for his wealth and position, Dorothy begins to have second thoughts, initially because of Arnold's domineering jealousy, but then because of her feeling for Ernest Chapin. At first Dorothy tries to stay aloof, arguing coolly to herself that Arnold is rich and Chapin poor, and that's all there is to be said; but at length her love for the secretary - the first genuine emotion of her life, we are to understand, in spite of her endless flirtations - grows too strong to be denied. Chapin's arrest on the basis of a circumstantial but convincing collection of evidence marks a crisis in Dorothy's life, his subsequent imprisonment, and the looming threat of conviction and execution, proving an ordeal that will change her forever, and for the better.

This attempt by Wells to show one of her characters growing and changing as a result of suffering is something new; and while Dorothy's reformation is not entirely convincing (for one thing, Chapin seems hardly deserving of her purifying passion), the shift is commendable. Around this altered central narrative, we find some other interesting differences. This is the first of Wells' novels to be told in the third person, rather than by a combination narrator / amateur detective. The latter role is taken up by Fred Crane, the husband of Arnold's cousin, who exasperates everyone with his officious "investigating"; a reality, we suspect, previously disguised by the first-person narrative. At the same time, we have here the first instance of a woman evincing "the detective instinct" so prevalent amongst Wells' male characters. Leila Duane, a young guest, insists on helping with the searching of the house and grounds, and discovers an odd detail: the unexplained absence of a decorative cushion from the library. The professional and amateur detectives alike scoff at Leila, but she holds stubbornly to her clue - and she's right: the cushion is found with the body, having been used to staunch the bleeding, thus proving that the murder occurred in the library. Finally, Fleming Stone, though still a late arrival, is far more present in this novel than usual, and begins to be a character rather than just a construct. We learn, for one thing, of an unhappy love affair in his past; something that makes him particularly susceptible to the pleas of lovers - luckily for Dorothy and Chapin. All in all, then, though somewhat lacking purely as a mystery, The White Alley contains distinct and encouraging signs of artistic growth on the part of Carolyn Wells.

A week earlier Dorothy would have brought into play her whole bewitching paraphernalia of smiles, blushes, dimples, and long drooping eyelashes. Now those wiles seemed to her trivial in the face of her tragedy... Dropping into the seat Mr Stone placed for her, she looked straight into his face and said slowly, "The man I hope to marry has been arrested for a murder he did not commit. But everybody believes he did it. Even the lawyers say there is no loophole for him."
"And you want me to find a loophole?" said Fleming Stone, smiling kindly at her as she paused.
"No... I want you to find the man who did kill Mr Arnold."

Apr 14, 2012, 9:05pm Top

By the way, a "white alley" is a marble - a child's toy. No, I didn't know, either. :)

Apr 15, 2012, 6:18pm Top

Finished At One-Thirty by Isabel Ostrander - review to come.

Now reading The Beacon Hill Murders by Roger Scarlett for TIOLI #11.

Apr 16, 2012, 6:15pm Top

Finished The Beacon Hill Murders - review to come.

Now reading The Web Of Iniquity: Early Detective Fiction By American Women by Catherine Ross Nickerson.

Apr 17, 2012, 1:53am Top


I commented, around my reading of Metta Fuller Victor's The Dead Letter and The Figure Eight, about the wary attitude towards the police evident in many early American detective fictions. This passage from The Web Of Iniquity by Catherine Ross Nickerson, the editor of Victor's re-issued novels, goes some way to explaining it:

"By the last decades of the century, most departments were promoting detectives out of the ranks of uniformed officers, but from the 1840s into the 1870s, detectives were more often private citizens who contracted their services to the police. Many detectives not only asked a fee of their client - private citizen or police department - but also expected a share of any stolen goods they successfully recovered or a bribe from a criminal willing to pay for the detective's silence... As Marcus Klein puts it in Easterns, Westerns, and Private Eyes, 'in the regard of all decent people acquainted with the ways of the law, detectives and most especially private detectives had been no better than the scoundrels they detected, if indeed they were not worse.'"

Apr 17, 2012, 7:05am Top

That's a really interesting piece of historical information, Liz. I haven't delved much into the genre, and even fewer early examples. But its fascinating to know what sorts of things inform the stories written during the time. I tried to find Metta Fuller Victor's work at my library, but they did not have it. If I remember right, at the time you posted those reviews, Amazon didn't have any of them as free Kindle offerings, either. I'll have to check again.

Edited: Apr 17, 2012, 4:33pm Top

This kind of thing happens every time I get interested in a topic - I end up reading backwards! :)

I've read quite a lot of the sensation novels and proto-mysteries from this period, and watching the detective novel emerge out of the mixture of genres and influences operating at the time is quite fascinating. My latest fixation is discovering which - if any - American mystery writers had a policeman as their hero: they're certainly few and far between. Anna Katharine Green started out with one, but moved more and more towards the amateur detective, and then ended up pitting her amateurs against the police.

The Victor books are certainly worth reading, although you shouldn't go into them expecting "proper" detective novels.

Apr 17, 2012, 4:33pm Top

Just so you do not forget I am still around :)

Apr 17, 2012, 4:35pm Top


But truly, I'm so glad to see you, I don't even mind that you brought your impatient friend! I've been following your academic triumphs with interest, of course, but it's lovely to have you back "home"! :)

Apr 17, 2012, 4:36pm Top

I have been keeping up with you too. I subscribe to your blog :)

Apr 17, 2012, 5:12pm Top

#49 Ah ha! Very interesting.

#52 :-)

Apr 17, 2012, 6:21pm Top

>>#54 Much appreciated!!

>>#55 Don't encourage her! :)

Apr 17, 2012, 6:50pm Top

But I need encouragement, Liz!!

Apr 18, 2012, 1:52am Top


Apr 18, 2012, 1:53am Top

Finished The Web Of Iniquity for TIOLI #8...and those unwritten reviews are piling up again...

Now reading Dr Thorndyke's Casebook by R. Austin Freeman, also for TIOLI #8. (And it's short stories, so it fits into the "short stories in April" thang!)

Apr 18, 2012, 7:02pm Top

#59: I need to read some of Freeman's books. You have said enough about them that I think I would really enjoy them.

Edited: Apr 18, 2012, 7:13pm Top

They are very good. The early ones are mysteries that are really about the mystery, if you know what I mean (except for Helen Vardon's Confession, which I think was an experiment), but I'm also enjoying the sense of time passing as the series goes on. There's always a slightly different London in the background - different forms of transport, less time needed to get around, shifts in the population, and so on.

Apr 19, 2012, 1:25am Top

And back, and back, and back...

It turns out that the question of "the first" detective novel is quite a hot-button issue out there - as well as one unavoidably impacted by language barriers. I'm currently researching and rounding up a number of nominees, to find out for myself - including what may be the first Australian detective novel, from 1865! Stay tuned. :)

Apr 19, 2012, 6:24pm Top

Finished Dr Thorndyke's Casebook for TIOLI #8...should I even bother to say it..?

Now reading The Rasp by Philip MacDonald, the first in his long-running series featuring Anthony Gethryn.

Apr 21, 2012, 12:21am Top

At One-Thirty: A Mystery - In spite of his blindness, Damon Gaunt has earned a reputation as a first-class private investigator. When Garret Appleton is found shot dead in his own study, Gaunt is summoned to the scene by the victim's mother, who wants the killer caught quickly and with a minimum of publicity. Although the circumstances suggest robbery-homicide, Gaunt is able to demonstrate that the apparent evidence - a jimmied window and bloody hand-prints - was staged; and, moreover, staged some time after Appleton's death. A dishonest businessman, a vindictive brother and an abusive and perhaps unfaithful husband, Appleton had no shortage of enemies. When the police uncover evidence of his involvement in the scandalous collapse of a Wall Street brokerage firm some years before, they conclude that Appleton's past caught up with him. Gaunt, however, with his acute sensitivity to the voice-tones of others, finds more anger and fear than grief amongst the victim's family, and seeks the killer closer to home. His task is unexpectedly complicated when he finds himself profoundly drawn to Barbara Ellerslie, Appleton's sister-in-law; an attraction doubly inappropriate since, on one hand, Barbara is engaged to be married---and on the other because, with her passionate devotion to her young sister, Natalie, Appleton's pregnant widow, she is very high on his list of suspects...

Over the ten years preceding her death at the age of only forty-one, Isabel Ostrander was a prolific writer of mystery stories, which she published both under her own name and using the pseudonyms "Robert Orr Chipperfield" and "David Fox" - as well as writing westerns as "Douglas Grant". At One-Thirty: A Mystery is an auspicious debut, and one which introduces the idiosyncratic figure of Damon Gaunt, the blind private investigator, whose hypersensitive senses of touch, smell and hearing open up to him a world of information unavailable to the regular forces of law and order, and whose well-developed ability to "read" the people he speaks to is enhanced still further by the many ways in which, gaining false security from his blindness, they give themselves away in their tone, their hesitations and their choice of words. In demonstrating Gaunt's abilities, Ostrander perhaps offers too many examples, having him deduce something about every single person he meets over the course of the story ("Why do you sew without a thimble?"), in a series of short scenes that feel like a riposte to one of the most famous introductions of a detective in literary history. ("You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.") However, it is also possible to interpret these scenes as overcompensation on Gaunt's part, illustrative of his obsession with proving that he has overcome what everyone else considers his handicap.

Gaunt's first act in his investigation of Garret Appleton's murder is to alienate his employer, Mrs Finlay Appleton, by finding evidence that it was an inside job; while his further demonstration of the staging of the "robbery" and the delay of hours between the murder and the setting of the scene opens up the possibility of a second person being involved in the crime. As for Appleton himself, he is progressively revealed as a cruel and ill-tempered man, taking pleasure in tormenting his wastrel brother, Yates (who, on the basis of his sniffing and nose-rubbing, Gaunt pegs as a cocaine addict), and both physically and emotionally abusive to his young wife. Although the parallel police investigation veers off on the tangent of Appleton's profiting from the collapse of a company, in which many people lost their savings, Gaunt remains focused upon the comings and goings of the family, their servants and their dinner guests---particularly Dorothy Carhart, to whom Appleton was engaged before marrying Natalie on the rebound, and with whom he had been carrying on a flirtation before his unhappy wife's eyes. In order to solve the case, Gaunt must pick his way through a web of lies and secrets, and guard his analytical abilities against the emotional havoc created by his deepening attraction to Barbara Ellerslie - and the tantalising distraction of her declared intention of breaking off her engagement...

Published in 1915, At One-Thirty is a strong example of the early American detective novel, and an intriguing illustration of the social and attitudinal gap that existed between these works and their contemporary British counterparts. This is true both in the overarching approach to the story, and in the detail. For example, even as late as this, when the murder weapon is discovered there is no thought given to fingerprints, but only to establishing whether the gun had been recently fired. The police are called to the scene of the crime - and are rather confronting in their Irishness, our story being set in New York - but their investigation has barely begun before the victim's sceptical mother is looking for more sophisticated assistance from someone she may meet on equal terms; a gentleman. Ultimately, however, this novel's deepest interest lies in its progressive revelation of its investigator's state of mind, as Damon Gaunt is led to ponder his professional obligations. He has, after all, no judicial standing; he has sworn no oath to uphold the law. He has become an investigator not through official channels, but merely on the strength of a natural talent, to give himself an occupation, and to prove his worth to a world determined to treat him like a cripple. What, then, are his responsibilities - and who are they to? To find a private detective worrying over the morality of his calling, and a full eight years before the creation of the similarly troubled Lord Peter Wimsey, is both unexpected and fascinating. Small wonder that Isabel Ostrander had an admirer in Dorothy L. Sayers---for whom she may even have been an inspiration.

Gaunt felt his way over to the window, felt the sill and the fastenings, and the velvet and lace hangings, and the rich pile of the carpet at his feet. When he encountered there some sticky, congealed wet places, he knelt and smelled them, kneading his hands in the damp velvet... He came slowly back to that figure in the chair, wiping his hands carefully on his handkerchief as he did so, while the other men watched him in a sort of fascination, as silent as it was intent. Then he took the cold head in his hands, feeling its shape with the trained, sure delicacy of a surgeon...

Apr 21, 2012, 7:10pm Top

Nice review! I'm going to try to find this one.

Apr 21, 2012, 8:16pm Top

Ah! Well, if you're going to take that as a recommendation, I should probably add that Ostrander is not as strong a writer as Sayers, and that the overall tone of the novel is rather melodramatic---which I find is a common feature of novels (at least, detective novels) from this period.

In other words, all care taken, no responsibility accepted! :)

Apr 22, 2012, 6:16pm Top

Finished The Rasp by Philip MacDonald - not a TIOLI - review to come.

Sigh. One step forward, one step back.

Now reading The Mother by Naomi Royde-Smith...and I bet I can't get a touchstone for that... HA!! - #99 on the list, how 'bout that?? :)

Apr 23, 2012, 6:21pm Top

Finished The Mother - again, not a TIOLI - one step forward, two steps back...

Now reading 'Vantage Striker by Helen Simpson.

Apr 26, 2012, 8:35am Top

"In other words, all care taken, no responsibility accepted! :)" - I've also downloaded the Ostrander despite your caution :-)

Apr 26, 2012, 6:46pm Top

Eep! :)

Apr 26, 2012, 7:03pm Top

So where am I? In a bit of a mess.

I've finished 'Vantage Striker - and fallen still further behind in my write-ups. I have a bunch of read library books due back shortly, so I have to get some reviews written this weekend.

On the other hand, I've managed to get some blogging done. I've written a piece outlining the events leading up to the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 and the enforced abdication of James II, so as to put the political literature of the period into context - it may be found here.

I've also joined in with National Poetry Month by reading and discussing Aphra Behn's royalist poetry of 1685 - 1688, written to support the cause of James. Although these poems are far from Behn at her best, they are a fascinating glimpse into the war of words being conducted during the dying days of the Stuarts. The post is here.

Lastly---I am now reading Ruth Fielding Of The Red Mill; or, Jasper Parloe's Secret, from 1913, the first in the long-running series produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate and written by various authors working under the house name "Alice B. Emerson".

Apr 27, 2012, 2:38pm Top

"the first in the long-running series" *sniggers*

Apr 27, 2012, 6:00pm Top

Ah, shaddup! :)

I hope you noticed that because of you, I overhauled my ongoing series listing. (Though I'm cheating by including series where I'm still trying to track down the first book.)

Edited: May 15, 2012, 7:01pm Top

The Beacon Hill Murders - When Frederick Sutton is shot dead in his own house following a dinner party, and society figure Mrs Anceney found alone with the body, it seems an open-and-shut case. However, Mrs Anceney declines to make a statement to the police and insists upon summoning her attorney. In the meantime, Underwood, Sutton's lawyer and a guest at the party, calls in Inspector Kane, an expert in criminology and psychology whom he has known since their college days. To Kane, Underwood describes the household: Sutton himself, newly wealthy and determined to climb the social ladder; the self-contained, largely ignored Mrs Sutton; Katharine, their daughter, to whom Sutton was closest; James, their son, bad-tempered and dissolute; and Bert Walton, Mrs Sutton's somewhat unbalanced brother. The guests were Gilroy, Sutton's former secretary and James' friend; Mrs Anceney, whose connection with Sutton was the subject of gossip; and Underwood himself. Underwood also describes the uncomfortable aftermath of the party, during which Sutton took Mrs Anceney upstairs to see a recently acquired bronze figure, James and Gilroy withdrew to drink, and Katharine and Bert went to bed. Having tried and failed to make conversation with Mrs Sutton, Underwood left the house, but returned upon realising he had left behind his stick behind - and thus was downstairs when the fatal shot was fired. With the arrival of her attorney, Kane prepares to question Mrs Anceney, who has been confined to an upstairs room under police guard since the discovery of the murder - only to find that she, too, is dead, her throat cut with a razor...

Working under the joint pseudonym of "Roger Scarlett", Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page wrote a handful of well-received mysteries during the early 1930s that were set in and around Boston, and of which The Beacon Hill Murders was the first. This murder mystery is something of a transitional work. While overall it represents another of the "geographical" puzzles that were so popular during the first decades of the 20th century, with much emphasis upon the arrangement of the rooms and the whereabouts of the characters, we see too an increasing interest in the psychology of the killer, and a willingness to look beyond the more obvious motives for murder. It is significant in this respect that the novel presents us with two police officers. Sergeant Moran, who is first summoned to the scene of the crime, represents the old guard; while Inspector Kane, with his specialty training, is the new. The text makes it clear that while Moran is a painstaking investigator and certainly no fool, this is a case beyond his somewhat routine powers. Nevertheless, he and Kane work the case together; and though Kane is frequently exasperated by his bull-at-a-gate methods, Moran does contribute to the solving of the murders.

Though badly shaken by Sutton's murder, Underwood provides for Kane a clear and detailed account of the evening - and of a series of events that makes less and less sense the more closely it is examined. Kane is particularly interested in Sutton's blundering attempt to bestow upon Mrs Anceney an extravagant gift in the shape of a Chinese jade pendant with a long and curious history, and her gently-worded but definite refusal of it. Although rumour held that Mrs Anceney was Sutton's mistress, Underwood is certain that, given her dependence upon her social standing and her careful guarding of her reputation, this was not the case; but what, then, was her connection with the crass, social-climbing Sutton? Why would she agree to be his guest when being in his house so obviously made her uncomfortable? And how, conversely, did Sutton's family - the eternally cash-poor James, the neglected Ellen and Katharine, and the resentful Bert - feel about Sutton's obvious infatuation with the lovely widow? The circumstances of the crime would seem to rule out premeditation, as not for a minute could Mrs Anceney have expected to get away with it; but if the shooting of Sutton was done on impulse, why are there no fingerprints on the murder weapon?

Despite these inconsistencies, it is not until Mrs Anceney is found murdered that it becomes quite clear that she was not Sutton's killer. It then emerges that her refusal to speak was due not to her guilt, but her concern over her reputation: how much it might suffer through her involvement in the murder; and how far her part in events could be kept from the public. As Kane realises, if she herself was not Sutton's killer, she either knew who was or, at least, how the murder was committed; but her determination to protect herself from gossip gave the killer a window of opportunity in which to silence her forever. However, her terror of scandal might itself hold a clue to some of the evening's mysteries. Careful questioning of the members of the household, and of the unfortunate McBeath, the policeman left to guard the room in which Mrs Anceney took refuge, reveals that the second murder must have been committed within the scant minutes that McBeath was away from his post. The disappearance of the jade pendant would seem to point at a financial motive for the crimes, particularly when Bert Walton reveals to the police officers that Sutton quarrelled violently with James over money shortly before dinner. In spite of these details, Kane becomes convinced that something much darker lies behind Sutton's death. A picture of the killer begins to take shape in his mind: someone ruthless, intelligent, able to take decisive action on the spur of the moment - and quite possibly mad...

I knew people died. I knew death was not always beautiful. But it was calm, and one could wait by the bedside, prepared, and then, after a while, go sadly away, a little upset, perhaps, to tell friends it was all over. So this wasn't death, though it was very still. It was something else, a thing that for the second time that night had been thrust without warning into my existence. Life suddenly extinct. There was blood, not on her face, but everywhere else, on the front of her dress, on the seat of her chair. And what had been her body sat there, heedless of its ruin, careless of our horror...

Apr 27, 2012, 10:07pm Top

Greetings and salutations!

I haven't been on LT much in the last few weeks, but I believe I' m caught up with your thread, now.

>49 lyzard: That's quite an interesting explanation for the lack of police in the mysteries you've been reading. At least you found an explanation, even if it was a little after the fact!

As always, your reviews are a pleasure.

Apr 28, 2012, 6:13pm Top

Hi, Dejah! Thanks for stopping by. I've had quite a patchy LT week, too - and I always feel so guilty about thread neglect. :)

Edited: Apr 29, 2012, 12:08am Top

So I have at last found an American mystery series in which the detective is a police officer - or I think I have. At least, I do know that Inspector Kane returns in the second of the novels by Roger Scarlett, with Underwood also returning as narrator.

The other interesting point in The Beacon Hill Murders, written in 1930, is that fingerprints are an immediate issue - as they were not in 1915, in either The White Alley or At One-Thirty. I'll be keeping an eye out for the first American book that takes them for granted. They were standard procedure in Britain from the earliest years of the 20th century - as we know from the first Dr John Thorndyke mystery, The Red Thumb Mark, written in 1907, which not only proves that fingerprints can be forged, but repeatedly scolds the police for treating fingerprints as the be-all and end-all of criminal investigation.

Edited: Apr 28, 2012, 9:45pm Top

The Web Of Iniquity: Early Detective Fiction By American Women - The detective novel as we know it today, particularly that branch of writing known as the "cosy mystery", has roots stretching back to the Gothic novel of the late 18th and early 19th century. Over subsequent decades, the Gothic novel became domesticated as the sensation novel, which horrified and offended some critics by setting tales of murder and madness amongst the respectable middle- and upper-classes. The 19th century also saw the development of a new sort of fiction that became known as the detective story: short tales of crimes, and of the individuals, professional or amateur, who solved them. During the 1860s, a melding of these two forms of fiction took place, and the detective novel was born; and as Catherine Ross Nickerson demonstrates, in America most of this new genre's earliest proponents were women. In The Web Of Iniquity, Nickerson traces the development of the American detective novel over some seventy years, from the earliest examples that appeared in the wake of the Civil War through into the 1930s, when this domesticated form of fiction found itself under attack by the new, "hard-boiled" school of crime writing.

While most histories posit Edgar Allan Poe as "the father of the detective story", and rightly, The Web Of Iniquity looks past this conventional approach to examine the various influences that acted upon the development of the full-length detective novel, analysing why the genre in America became so female-dominated. After amusingly, but certainly not incorrectly, positioning Jane Eyre as the seminal domestic-sensation novel, Nickerson demonstrates how this form of novel offered exciting opportunities for female authors, who began not merely reiterating genre tropes, but using them in new and interesting - indeed, almost post-modern - ways. Nickerson cites as an important early instance of this shift the fake haunting in Uncle Tom's Cabin, in which a traditionally "Gothic" situation is deliberately created as a smokescreen. E.D.E.N. Southworth, whose domestic-sensation novels made her the best-selling author in America during the 1850s and 1860s, likewise has her characters using novelistic tropes for their own purposes. Nickerson here discusses Southworth's 1859 novel, The Hidden Hand, in which the resourceful heroine adopts an ultra-feminine persona - that is, crying, fainting, being helpless - in order to lull her enemies into a false sense of security and rescue herself and another woman from danger; a process she calls "doing the sentimental".

A pivotal figure in this literary movement is Louisa May Alcott, who herself "did the sentimental", earning a public reputation for her high-purposed domestic fiction while secretly publishing sensation stories under a pseudonym (as, of course, did Jo March). Nickerson highlights Alcott's 1865 story, "V. V.; or, Plots And Counterplots", which although not a fully developed specimen of the new genre, is the first work by an American woman to feature a detective. Nickerson also draws attention to the work of Pauline Hopkins, the pioneering black writer, who in her short story "Talma Gordon" and her novel Hagar's Daughter used the detective story to consider questions of race and identity. However, the bulk of The Web Of Iniquity focuses upon the works of the three women writers who established the American detective novel as an important and popular genre in its own right: Metta Fuller Victor - from whose The Dead Letter, the first American detective novel, Nickerson takes the phrase "the web of iniquity" - Anna Katharine Green, and Mary Roberts Rinehart.

As developed by these three women, the American detective novel may be seen as simultaneously conservative and subversive. These stories are, invariably, set amongst the middle- and upper-classes, and most frequently involve those aspects of life in which the private and the public spheres overlap: that is, births, deaths and marriages. In the first works of this new genre, the intrusion of the public gaze into a private home in the wake of the commission of a crime is perceived as a greater injury than the crime itself, and very often the identity of the guilty party is ultimately concealed in order to avoid scandal. The solving of the mystery thus becomes about re-establishing the status quo in a manner that overtly upholds domestic life and virtues. However, in order to achieve this it is often necessary for the detective to expose the deceit, hypocrisy and violence lurking behind the facade of respectability - and in some cases, how the very striving for respectability has been the motive for crime. A common plot in these novels is that of the upwardly aspring man who needs to rid himself of an inappropriate or inconvenient woman, whose connection to himself he is desperate to conceal.

In the earliest American detective novels, including those of Metta Fuller Victor, the detective is a man whose investigation of the crime is sometimes undertaken in order to clear his own name, but more often in order to protect a young woman whose reputation and/or social status is threatened. Initially, the novels of Anna Katharine Green also featured male detectives - including, most unusually for American novels, a policeman-hero - but it was also Green who created the first spinster-detective, Miss Amelia Butterworth (an admitted inspiration for Miss Marple). After initially assisting police inspector Ebenezer Gryce, Miss Butterworth gradually becomes determined, in the face of his condescending attitude towards women in general and her in particular, to prove herself the better detective. Many of Green's later novels feature other female detectives, who are frequently pitted against professional males; but it was Mary Roberts Rinehart who truly made the female detective her own, and who explicitly used the detective novel a vehicle for examining gender roles and social conventions. Rinehart, too, favours the spinster-detective: her novels abound with unmarried, childless women thoroughly satisfied with their footloose lives, and who are often contrasted with married women stifling within the confines of traditional domesticity. Rinehart's detective novels span the first three decades of the 20th century, and offer a fascinating glimpse into the shifting roles and opportunities for women during those years.

The conflict between the public and the private that fuels her novels was no less as an aspect of Mary Roberts Rinehart's own life. Like many women writers, her career conflicted with her domestic obligations. Her doctor-husband resented both her fame and her financial success, and there are accounts of him trying to control his wife's earnings. Rinehart gave many interviews in which she asserted "my family comes first", but in fact she was finally driven to rent an office where she could sit and work in peace, and escape the family that never hesitated to interrupt her writing. It is perhaps not surprising that, over the course of her career, Rinehart's novels show an increasing interest in transgressive female behaviour, and often feature female criminals - but always in the domestic setting. Like many of her contemporaries, Rinehart was fascinated by the infamous Lizzie Borden case, which increasingly informed her often surprisingly violent tales, most explicitly in her 1933 novel, The Album; an analysis of which closes The Web Of Iniquity in a chapter gloriously titled: "I Suppose She Stood It As Long As She Could": Mothers, Daughters, and Axe Murder.

In the early period, in the work of Victor and the first novels of Green, the detectives are male and the heroine is a woman falsely accused of a crime or orphaned by the murder of a relative. She must, like a heroine in a domestic novel in painful circumstances, submit nobly to the public humiliation of gossip, newspaper headlines, and legal proceedings; her goal is to regain her place of respectability within the ideologies of race, sex and class... The later work of Green and Rinehart features female detective-heroines who likewise face their trials. They are shaken out of their upper-class complacency by the murder and have to learn physical and mental courage as they work to correct an inept police investigation or protect a member of their family who is wrongly suspected of the crime. These novels...establish women at the center of the urgent work of saving the professional and upper classes from their own corruption and venality.

Apr 28, 2012, 11:46pm Top

Dr Thorndyke's Casebook (US title: The Blue Scarab) - Published in 1923, this eighth work in R. Austin Freeman's Dr John Thorndyke series is a collection of short stories, which finds Dr Christopher Jervis, by now Thorndyke's partner, resuming the narrative duties for the first time since 1912's The Mystery Of 31 New Inn. As usual, these short stories are not explicitly positioned within the series timeline, but nevertheless one of their attractions is their sense of passing time. In addition to the attention to geographical detail that always helps to makes Freeman's fiction so fascinating, it is evident in this collection that the times, they are a-changing - particularly with respect to an increasingly multicultural London.

In The Case Of The White Footprints, a woman's death in a boarding-house is confirmed as murder when footprints in paint are found upon the floor of her room - the marks of feet missing the smallest toe. The Blue Scarab is a story of an old-fashioned treasure-hunt - by new-fashioned methods - in which a supposedly worthless artefact turns out to be the key to the discovery of a fabulous, albeit illicitly obtained, fortune. The New Jersey Sphinx finds an elusive American jewel thief, who has proven himself frighteningly willing to kill, moving his operations to London in pusuit of an enormous ruby. In The Touchstone, the death of a man immediately after making an inequitable will raises the possibility of murder, but the investigation is complicated by the discovery of his wallet in the possession of a thief with whom he could not have been in contact. In A Fisher Of Men, a stolen diamond necklace is recovered through the joint application of pike fishing and invertebrate zoology; while The Stolen Ingots turns upon the size-weight ratios of particular metals. Finally, in The Funeral Pyre, what starts out as a determination of murder, sucide or accidental death eventually becomes a question of correct identification, when a charred skeleton is found within the debris of of a burning haystack.

While the majority of the stories in Dr Thorndyke's Casebook deal with serious crimes, the stories themselves are not entirely grim in tone; although Freeman does make an effort (not always successful) to confine his slightly ghoulish sense of humour to those entries dealing with theft rather than those in which murder is committed. As always, each story within this collection revolves around a particular form of scientific detection; although unlike some of the earlier Thorndyke tales, a number of them further involve such arcane knowledge that the reader has little chance to "play along". For example, A Fisher Of Men turns upon the restricted distribution of a small freshwater snail. The assertion that opens this particular story - "The man who would successfully practise the scientific detection of crime must take all knowledge for his province. There is no single fact which may not, in particular circumstances, acquire a high degree of evidential value" - operates as a manifesto for the collection as a whole.

Medico-legal practice is largely concerned with crimes against the person, the details of which are often sordid, gruesome and unpleasant. Hence the curious and romantic case of the Blue Scarab (though really outside our speciality) came as somewhat of a relief. But to me it is of interest principally as illustrating two of those remarkable gifts which made my friend, Thorndyke, unique as an investigator: his uncanny power of picking out the one essential fact at a glance, and his capacity to produce, when required, inexhaustible stores of unexpected knowledge of the most out-of-the-way subjects.

Apr 28, 2012, 11:57pm Top

Nice reviews, Liz. I am glad I do not have to drag out the cat :)

Apr 29, 2012, 12:10am Top

Not as glad as I am. :)

I should say that I am deliberately not posting many of my reviews because I've fallen into the habit of cross-referencing what I'm writing on my thread in them, particularly when talking about the early detective novels. I don't want to have to re-write them for posting.

Apr 29, 2012, 12:13am Top


I cannot blame you for not wanting to have to re-write your reviews either. It is hard enough to write a review to begin with!

Apr 29, 2012, 12:17am Top

Yes! - and I've still got three to go - groan...

Apr 29, 2012, 12:23am Top

Ah well, your reading public appreciates your efforts!

Apr 29, 2012, 12:34am Top

And I appreciate you it. :)

Apr 29, 2012, 12:40am Top

Just let me know when you need your own personal cheering section and I will happily oblige . . .

Apr 29, 2012, 9:10am Top

If I run across that Web of Iniquity book, I might pick it up. I've got such a backlog right now, that I'm probably not likely to order via ILL. It does sound interesting though.

Apr 29, 2012, 6:30pm Top

>>#86 Pretty much any time that's convenient for you. :)

>>#87 I should have mentioned that Catherine Ross Nickerson went from writing The Web Of Iniquity to editing the reissue of Metta Fuller Victor's The Dead Letter and The Figure Eight. She has also edited a similar dual reissue of Anna Katharine Green's That Affair Next Door and Lost Man's Lane.

Edited: Apr 29, 2012, 6:45pm Top

Finished Ruth Fielding Of The Red Mill - let's see - seven steps back, three steps forward, one step back...

Well! - I have been meaning to read more Canadian literature, but I didn't really mean to start via the local version of the western - which I believe goes under the generic title of the "north-western". :)


Now reading Weston Of The Royal North-West Mounted Police by Trygve Lund. This is for (next month's) TIOLI #3.

Edited: Apr 30, 2012, 7:00pm Top

Time for the April wrap:

This month I completed 15 books, my second-best reading month since I joined the 75ers. It was an erratic TIOLI month, however, starting strongly but then tailing off:

#1: The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers
#6: The Sham Prince Expos'd by Anonymous
#7: The Gothic Quest by Montague Summers
#8: At One-Thirty by Isabel Ostrander
#8: Dr Thorndyke's Casebook by R. Austin Freeman
#8: The Web Of Iniquity by Catherine Ross Nickerson
#11: The Dead Letter by Metta Fuller Victor
#11: The Figure Eight by Metta Fuller Victor
#11: The Beacon Hill Murders by Roger Scarlett

For the rest, my reading was dominated by mysteries - partly series reading, and partly early detective fiction. I started three new series this month (ulp!): the Inspector Kane mysteries by Roger Scarlett (which are not easy to find, so I don't know how far I'll get with that), the Anthony Gethryn stories of Philip MacDonald (some of which I gather are thrillers rather than mysteries) and the young-adult Ruth Fielding series.

Final breakdown:

Non-fiction: 2
Blog reading: 2 (plus some poetry)
Mysteries: 8
Contemporary (i.e. at time of publication) drama: 2
Young adult: 1

Series reading: 6

Edited: May 1, 2012, 1:49am Top


I'm suffering at the moment from a bad case of L.A.R. - library access restriction. The academic library I use is undergoing major renovations requiring the moving of huge sections of their holdings into storage. Theoretically these are still available by normal storage request, but the reality is that only a scattering of requests are being attended to and you don't really know whether a book is coming or not. The waiting and uncertainty are playing havoc with my OCD! - and while I'm not as much of a planned reader as my list-making might suggest, the loss of immediate access to a fair chunk of my intended reading is incredibly frustrating.


May 1, 2012, 5:59am Top

A new picture for a new month - this is the golden lion tamarin, which is found in Brazil. The species is currently hovering between endangered and critically endangered: there have been some successful reintroductions into the wild of captive-bred colonies, but continued deforestion and the territorial nature of the tamarins mean that the remaining habitat can only support restricted numbers.

May 1, 2012, 11:43am Top

Now there's a handsome beast! Thanks for posting that photo, Liz, and for the accompanying information.

May 1, 2012, 2:31pm Top

Sorry you are having library issues! But at least that cute lil' lion tamarin should make you smile :)

May 1, 2012, 5:07pm Top

Hi, TK and Chelle - thanks for visiting! Yes, tamarins can always cheer me up; hopefully this one will help me through the debilitating stages of book deprivation. :)

Edited: May 1, 2012, 5:12pm Top

Finished Weston Of The Royal North-West Mounted Police for TIOLI #3 - review to come - eventually...

And I've just realised that was my 50th book for the year, which puts me ahead of last year - excellent!

And since the library situation has thrown me back on whatever I can access electronically, I've returned sooner than planned to Carolyn Wells' Fleming Stone series - now reading The Curved Blades, from 1916.

Edited: May 15, 2012, 7:07pm Top

The Rasp - News of the shocking murder of John Hoode, Minister of Imperial Finance, at his country house is brought to Spencer Hastings, editor and part-owner of the small but successful magazine The Owl, by his secretary Margaret Warren, who happened to be staying in the neighbourhood. Seeing an opportunity to scoop the newspapers, Hastings not only orders a special edition but, at the suggestion of Miss Warren, sends in his own agent in the shape of Colonel Anthony Gethryn, Hastings' friend and co-owner of The Owl, whose war experiences included intelligence work. At Abbotshall, Gethryn finds the case in the hands of Superintendent Boyd, an old friend, and learns that Hoode was savagely beaten to death in his study with a heavy wood-rasp. The room shows signs of a struggle, but Gethryn proves that the scene has been staged - right down to the stopping of an overturned grandfather clock at 10.45. It seems that the killer entered by a window; and since Hoode made no outcry, this would suggest that it was someone he knew - perhaps even a member of the household, which includes Hoode's repressed spinster sister, Laura; Archibald Deacon, his secretary; Sir Arthur Digby-Coates, a lifelong friend and an acquaintance of Gethryn's; and Mrs Mainwaring, a visiting socialite. Official suspicion soon fastens on Deacon, whose account of his movements is proven inaccurate. Gethryn, however, finds indications that an outsider may have been on the premises. This line of investigation leads Gethryn to the beautiful young widow, Mrs Lemesurier, with whom he swiftly falls in love - in spite of the evidence that places her at Abbotshall at the time of the murder...

Coming in the wake of my reading of The Beacon Hill Murders, I found in The Rasp another mystery novel that combined the geographical puzzle, in which the arrangement of the rooms and the whereabouts of the characters are all-important, with the psychological novel in which the motive for murder may be found in the heart and mind of the killer. The police are satisfied with the rather crude case against Archibald Deacon, who they believe committed murder to conceal a robbery, but the more Gethryn learns of the circumstances of Hoode's death, the more strongly he believes that the very savagery of the murder is indicative of an intensely personal motive. The peculiar behaviour of Laura Hoode suggests to Gethryn that she is concealing something - possibly a disreputable secret about her brother's life - while the case takes on a new dimension when a faint trail of physical evidence leads Gethyrn to Lucia Lemesurier, a neighbour of Hoode's. Winning Lucia's confidence, Gethryn learns that her brother, Jimmy Masterson, was Hoode's secretary before Deacon, but was discharged after a heated quarrel with his employer. Due to his war experiences, Masterson suffers occasional outbreaks of erratic, even violent, behaviour, the most recent bout driving him to make threats against Hoode's life to Lucia. However, Gethryn is able to prove that he was in London at the time of the murder. Masterton reveals to Gethryn his conviction that Hoode was the target of smear campaign which, although conducted through the press, was personal rather than political, and that his quarrel with Hoode came after the politician laughed at his attempt to put him on guard. Examining the evidence, Gethryn concludes that Masterson is right - that Hoode was the object of a hatred so powerful, it could only be assuaged in blood...

The Rasp was Philip MacDonald's first solo work as an author, and its success marked the beginning of a long career in both novel- and screenwriting. Although a satisfyingly intricate mystery, as a novel The Rasp is not certainly without flaws, some of which can probably be attributed to its author's inexperience. In particular, there's a sense of strain about Gethryn's circumstantial account of the murder, which occupies the whole of a very lengthy chapter, and would seem to be driven by MacDonald's determination to demonstrate that he has played fair with the reader. Much scorn has been cast over the years on Mary Roberts Rinehart and her "had-I-but-known" school of detective fiction, but MacDonald is guilty of something similar here, repeatedly having Gethryn nagged at by something he can't quite remember before having a flash of inspiration at a critical moment. It's a trick that becomes irritating.

As for Gethryn himself, he seems to be something of an acquired taste. It is hard not to suspect that the breakthrough creation of Lord Peter Wimsey the year before was a strong influence upon Philip MacDonald. Gethryn is likewise something of an ongoing war casualty, unable to settle to anything since returning home; while the character of Jimmy Masterson, still suffering the effects of a head injury and his time as a prisoner-of-war, expands upon this theme. Also like Wimsey, Gethryn conceals his intellect behind a misleading way of speaking - and since he likes to talk to himself, we get a great deal of his idiosyncratic mixing of the extravagant and the inane. I can't say that Gethryn's habitual reckless driving, which Philip MacDonald seems to consider a measure of his masculinity, did much to endear him to me; while I was also annoyed by both of this novel's romantic subplots. On one hand we have Spencer Hastings in love with the efficient and intelligent Margaret Warren, but being too scared to tell her so until she is frightened into a display of emotion; her "weakness" encourages him to declare himself. On the other, Gethryn falls in love at first sight with Lucia Lemesurier, who spends much of the novel gasping, shrinking, wringing her hands, fighting back tears, making broken speeches, and even fainting - all of which Gethryn finds properly feminine and terribly attractive. He's welcome to it. However, none of these (perceived) shortcomings adversely affected the success of The Rasp, which turned out to be the first of some two dozen novels by Philip MacDonald to feature Anthony Gethryn.

But now, fairly in the room, this aloofness failed him. It was not that he felt any sudden surge of personal regret. It was rather that, for him at least, despite the sunlight which blazed incongruously in every corner, some cold, dark beastliness brooded everywhere. The big room was gay with chintz and as yet unfaded flowers of the day before; the solid furniture was of some beauty---in fact, a charming room. Yet Anthony shivered even before he had seen the thing lying grotesque upon the hearth...

May 1, 2012, 8:30pm Top

So---Lord Peter Wimsey, Colonel Anthony Gethryn, Albert Campion... Can anyone think of any other examples of upper-class-ass-who-really-isn't detectives from this period?

Still on The Rasp--- I can hardly tell you how much I was disappointed in Lucia Lemesurier, who is much more interesting before we meet her than she ever is afterwards.

As we later learn, upon belatedly receiving a letter from her brother in which he declares his intention of murdering Hoode, Lucia makes a desperate dash to Abbotshall to try and avert the threatened tragedy. To get there as swiftly as possible, she dons a bathing-outfit - or strips to her underwear; it isn't made clear which - dashes to the river which separates her house from Hoode's, swims across it, and sprints across the lawn to peer through a window into the study - where Hoode already lies dead. The terrified Lucia then returns home the way she came.

Of course, we don't see any of this: instead, Gethryn deduces it after the event from the physical evidence, while Lucia's collection of swimming trophies confirms his unlikely theory.

This display of physical prowess and swift action on Lucia's part is hardly reconcilable with her helpless, overly-emotional behaviour during the rest of the novel. And apparently I wasn't the only one to prefer Lucia in theory than in practice, as indicated by the cover-art from the 1931 re-issue:

May 1, 2012, 8:43pm Top

Congratulations on being ahead of last year's pace!

May 1, 2012, 9:31pm Top

Thank you! Though of course what that means in practice is reviews, reviews, reviews... :)

Edited: May 1, 2012, 11:58pm Top

The Mother - This short 1931 novel spends most of its time inside the head of its central character, who is in fact never identified by name, but figures variously in the text as "Dick's wife", "Mummy" and, most frequently, "she". The tendency of some people to define themselves entirely through others does, I confess, make me somewhat uncomfortable, and so it is probably not surprising that I was also made uncomfortable by the acute but narrow vision of "the mother", and her obsessively detailed anaysis of the most minute shifts in her relationship with her two young sons. The question seems to be, how far was my discomfort intended by Naomi Royde-Smith? It this a story embracing motherhood as life's supreme emotional experience - or an account of a limited soul?

Whatever else it is, The Mother is certainly a beautiful piece of writing. Royde-Smith's control of her language in the numerous lengthy passages in which she conveys the ebbing and flowing of the narrator's emotions is remarkable. At the same time, the psychology of the narrator, whether we find her admirable or disturbing, is never less than convincing. The overt action of this novel, such as it is, occupies a brief period during a sunny afternoon, as the narrator watches her boys, aged six and four, playing together and waits for the return home from work of her husband. Quietly pondering her life, the narrator takes us on a wandering journey through her marriage, the changes wrought by the arrival of the children, the feelings of inadequacy provoked by the precocious older boy, Trevor, and the soothing sense of self-worth engendered by the open affection of the younger, Beng. In the boys' behaviour and reactions she sees echoes of herself at a similar age, and by examining her childhood memories in the light cast by motherhood, she begins to grow into a greater understanding of herself.

But all throughout the narrator's self-analysis we see actions being translated into terms of emotion - until it becomes difficult to judge whether we have simply caught her at a particularly vulnerable moment, or whether this tendency to view life through an emotional prism is habitual. Repeated moments of self-dramatisation would suggest the latter. More than once the narrator fantasises about sacrificing herself by giving up the first place in her childrens' affections to their father or their aunt; yet Beng's momentary display of a preference for his father provokes an outbreak of jealous self-pity startling in its intensity - She had never felt pain like this before... Sight and hearing reeled within her... - and a self-examination that reaches new heights, and depths. When the wave passes, there is a sense that this extremity of feeling has been a cleansing experience for the narrator, a trial by fire that has left her with a clearer and calmer vision of her world and her place in it; yet ultimately, it is the exaggerated suffering and exaltation of her inward journey that lingers and disturbs.

She was a taut string of anguish across which an omnipotent devil drew out a shriek of despair. Her own voice calling "Beng! Beng!" broke the appalling sound. The string in which she quivered snapped. The circle fell apart and left her steady at a centre that was no longer the pivot of its whirling. She passed in a breath from the extremity of suffering movement to the breathless silence of dead calm. For a moment the silence and stillness were enough. She lay beneath them inert, aware only that the torment was over---sunk like a stone that, dropped into a well, has reached the dark oblivion of its source...

Edited: May 2, 2012, 6:38pm Top

'Vantage Striker (US title: The Prime Minister Is Dead) - While Helen Simpson is probably best known for, on one hand, the Sir John Saumarez mysteries that she co-wrote with Clemence Dane (the first of which was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1930 as "Murder!"), and on the other for her historical romances Saraband For Dead Lovers and Under Capricorn (which was also filmed by Hitchcock, of course), her 1931 novel 'Vantage Striker is one that seems to have slipped through the cracks. The novel's peculiar tone may account for its apparent failure to find a lasting audience: though its events are serious enough, the story is told with an air of wry cynicism that finally turns tragedy into comedy.

'Vantage Striker is a novel of the period between the wars, and its central character - certainly not its hero - is Dermot Boyne, a poor but well-born young man employed as private secretary to the cabinet minister, Justin Brazier. Though the events of the Great War are some years in the past, Dermot still carries the mental scars of a traumatic experience in which he was almost buried alive. Since this horrifying event, he has lost the ability to control his always volatile temper, and has been involved from time to time in violent incidents - most notoriously, during an international rugby match in front of fifty thousand shocked spectators. In the wake of another public brawl, Dermot calls upon an old friend of his army days, Dr James Stringfellow, who can only offer as dubious comfort the hope that a second trauma might cure his condition.

Recently, Britain has seen the resignation of the Prime Minister due to ill health, and his replacement by the unassuming Albert Ernest Aspinall, whose main qualification for the job seems to be that he offends nobody; almost nobody. The one person to object to Mr Aspinall's elevation, and through a display of public disloyalty that is entirely out of character, and which arrests the attention of his old school-fellow, James Stringfellow, is Justin Brazier. Careful observation leads Stringfellow to suspect that Brazier, too, is suffering from some sort of mental disorder; but before he can take any definitive action, the nation is rocked by the death - the murder - of Albert Ernest Aspinall at his country estate. It transpires that Aspinall was last in company with either Justin Brazier or Dermot Boyne: Boyne insists he left Aspinall with Brazier, while Brazier flatly contradicts him. Who is the nation to believe? - a feckless young man infamous for his violent temper, or the respected cabinet minister who will in all probability be the next Prime Minister?

'Vantage Striker was written at and set against a period of serious social unrest in England, and turns upon the damage done even to the survivors of war; yet the novel makes its points more often than not through finding black humour in its situations. As it turns out, shortly before the murder Dermot was cured of his affliction, just as Dr Stringfellow predicted, but in a manner so farcical - a tennis ball to the forehead at point-blank range - as to make it worthless as a defence, as Dermot gloomily concedes. The only people to believe in Dermot's innocence are Stringfellow and the Lady Sarah Benedict, who horrifies and outrages her family by reacting to Dermot's detention at His Majesty's pleasure with the announcement of their engagement. Meanwhile, Stringfellow grows certain that Brazier is suffering from general paresis, and determines to cure him by the only known method, infection with malaria - with or without his consent. However, when by these drastic means the truth of Aspinall's death is revealed, it is to a government that doesn't want to know; which is, in fact, perfectly prepared to sacrifice Dermot Boyne in order to avert scandal and uproar...

The Commissioner spoke with decision. "I like Boyne, and I'm sorry for him; but I shan't sleep soundly till he's in Broadmoor."
"An innocent man," said Arbuthnot again; then, jerking out a laugh: "And you can talk of sleep!"
"Well," answered the Commissioner, unmoved, "I don't know. It says in the Bible that it is expedient one man should die for the people; but which man it is, guilty or innocent, doesn't seem to matter so very much."

May 2, 2012, 9:43am Top

Love the quote from The Mother, Liz!

May 2, 2012, 6:42pm Top

Hi, Rosa! There were dozens of passages I could have used - even though I found it an uncomfortable read, it is certain beautifully written.

Edited: May 2, 2012, 7:06pm Top

Finished The Curved Blades by Carolyn Wells; now reading The Cat's Eye by R. Austin Freeman.

You will noticed I have stopped saying anything about reviews...

Edited: May 2, 2012, 7:32pm Top


After my grumbling over the lack of response to storage requests by my academic library, I now see that within the last couple of days they have instituted a new "streamlined" system. So I have re-placed all my requests, and am sitting with fingers crossed.

May 2, 2012, 7:34pm Top

Personal cheering section carrying on. . .

May 2, 2012, 7:49pm Top

I rock!! - apparently. :)

May 2, 2012, 8:59pm Top


Edited: May 4, 2012, 5:33pm Top

Finished The Cat's Eye by R. Austin Freeman and managed to slip this into the "75ers' usernames" TIOLI challenge - thank you, Roni!

To tell the truth, I was a tiny bit disgruntled when Nathan posted his "read an omnibus" challenge, because I was already reading an omnibus - it's even called an omnibus - The Lone Trail Omnibus by Trygve Lund - but had by then dispersed the contents separately into other challenges. Sigh.

BUT! - my hunting down of progenitors to and early forms of the detective novel has led me to Behind A Mask: The Unknown Thrillers Of Louisa May Alcott, which fits the bill nicely.

May 4, 2012, 8:28pm Top

Just a heads-up for anyone who's interested - I have begun a tutored read of Jane Austen's Persuasion with Ilana (Smiler69) - the thread is here.

May 4, 2012, 8:35pm Top

Ooh, thanks for the point. I'll have to poke my nose into the room and see how it's going.

May 4, 2012, 8:38pm Top


May 4, 2012, 9:06pm Top

Very insightful review of the Naomi Royde-Smith book. And yet - it's not on the Work for thumbability!

Edited: May 4, 2012, 9:15pm Top

Hey Liz -

Wonderful reviews - as expected! I always learn so much on your thread.

I love Persuasion - I just starred the thread and will be lurking madly.

ETA: I'll keep my fingers crossed that your library access problems are over.

May 4, 2012, 9:30pm Top

>>#114 Well, if you insist... It is now - thank you!!

>>#115 Thanks, Dejah! I look forward to having you join us for Persuasion.

Actually, as far as my library goes, it's a case of, "Well, shut my mouth." After I re-placed my storage requests, I got a pick-up notice within three days: certainly a lot more efficient than the old system! Since it seems as if, once the renovations are done (which have been undertaken largely on OHS grounds, I gather), they will have to leave a lot more books in storage, I only hope they keep it up.

May 4, 2012, 11:19pm Top

Ruth Fielding Of The Red Mill; or, Jasper Parloe's Secret - The orphaned Ruth Fielding is sent to live with her only relative, her mother's uncle, Jabez Potter, who operates a mill outside of the upper New York State town of Cheslow. Her train is stopped outside the town, however, by something on the line: a mastiff belonging to a boy called Tom Cameron. The agitated dog will allow only Ruth to approach it, so she makes one of the party that searches for its owner, who is found injured at the bottom of a slope, apparently having been run off the road. To her horror, as the semi-conscious boy is being carried away, Ruth hears him muttering that Jabez Potter was the cause of his accident. He is also overhead by Jasper Parloe, a local ne'er-do-well who has borne a grudge against Potter since being dismissed from the mill for dishonesty. When the train finally reaches Cheslow, no-one is there to meet Ruth, who spends the night with the station-master, his wife, and their daughter, Mercy, is confined to a wheelchair and angry and bitter as a consequence. Making her way to the Red Mill the next morning, Ruth is dismayed by her cold reception from Potter, who does nothing to make her welcome and tells her sternly he expects her to earn her keep. A warmer reception comes from Miss Alvirah Boggs, Potter's housekeeper, known to all as Aunt Alviry; while a friendship soon grows between Ruth and Helen Cameron, Tom's sister; although this is complicated by a feud between Potter and Mr Cameron. Much time passes before Ruth begins to feel at home at the Red Mill - while even more, and a strange adventure involving the discovery of a dark secret, is required before Ruth and her great-uncle learn to understand one another...

Founded at the very end of the 19th century by Edward Stratemeyer, the Stratemeyer Syndicate struck gold when it recognised that there was a huge, untapped market for books written specifically for children and what we would today call "young adults". From 1899 onwards, the publishing concern oversaw the creation of dozens of series intended for the youth market, perhaps most famously those built around Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins. So entrenched are these books in popular culture these days, it is hard to realise that for many years they were the subject of attack by critics, who insisted that children would be damaged in various ways by reading them - they would develop corrupted tastes and be unable to appreciate good literature; boys would learn contempt for authority; and girls would be given a "false idea of life" and grow up discontented. For a long time, many libraries refused to carry the "pernicious" Stratemeyer books.

(Hmm...I wonder what these people would think about "Goosebumps"??)

Starting in 1913, the Ruth Fielding series ran well into the 1930s, its reception shaping many of the Stratemeyer series to follow. Ruth herself is one of the characters that drew criticism for her unconventional behaviour - meaning that over the course of her series she fights for the right to attend both high school and college and also pursues a career; although she does finally marry and "settle down" (horrible expression!). After she did so, however, her sales dropped off. This was also the case in several of the other series where the central character was allowed to grow up in a realistic way, which led to the Syndicate forbidding this conclusion and leaving many of its series characters stranded in permanent adolescence. As was usually the case, the Ruth Fielding books were written by a succession of authors working under a single house name, in this case "Alice B. Emerson"; the first nineteen entries in the series, running through to 1923, were written by W. Bert Foster.

Ruth Fielding Of The Red Mill is an encouraging start to the series, mixing adventures with life-lessons. Even at this early stage, we see the emergence of some familiar tropes. Good-girl Ruth is given a more "spirited" best friend, Helen Cameron, who says and does the things that Ruth will not: thus, while Ruth determines to bear silently with Jabez's coldness and miserly ways, Helen is voluble in her criticism of him. There is also a wise community doctor, Doctor Davidson, whose care of his patients goes well beyond their medical needs. Ruth's chilly reception by Jabez Potter places this squarely within the "plucky orphan" tradition; and while by the end of the novel Ruth and Jabez have, as expected, come to a better understanding, there is a welcome realism in the fact that the leopard has not entirely changed his spots. Likewise, it is refreshing that Ruth's uncomplaining knuckling down to her domestic duties is almost as much about "showing" Uncle Jabez as it is about relieving the burden of Aunt Alviry, whose rheumatism is starting to get the better of her - and whose perpetual refrain of, "Oh, my back and oh, my bones!" becomes something of a catch-cry. While ultimately the novel is about Ruth finding her way in her new life, and learning to look upon the Red Mill as home, her early feelings of isolation and abandonment, and her struggles with the humiliations of poverty, are effectively described.

The most conventionally "inspirational" part of this novel involves Ruth's positive influence over the crippled Mercy Curtis; although even this goes in an unexpected direction when Mercy and Jabez, who don't seem to like anybody, take a quick liking to one another; kindred spirits, we understand. However, while there is plenty of didacticism here - which, thankfully, never interferes with the story or gets too heavy-handed - we can also see what the critics may have objected to, including a tendency for the children to "work around" authority. For example, when an angry Jabez forbids Helen and Tom to visit Ruth at the mill, the three take this very literally and continue to meet everywhere but the mill. Ruth is in company with the Camerons when the novel's two most exciting episodes occur. The first is the bursting of the Minturn Pond Dam, and the flooding of the valley, which among other destruction carries away Jabez's office and the cash-box he kept there and almost breaks his miserly heart. The second is the children's unexpected discovery of what actually happened to the cash-box...

Perhaps here we most vividly see why people may have objected to this series: there's something amusingly pragmatic about the fact that Ruth finds a way to her stingy great-uncle's heart by returning his lost money: not at all the kind of "lesson" most children's books of the time carried. But be that as it may--- If Jabez will never be a warm-hearted man, he is at least one who pays his debts; and this first novel closes with Ruth being granted her greatest wish - to attend boarding-school with Helen...

Although they were several miles down the valley, the thunder of the bursting masonry now echoed in their ears. And up from the bottom of the wall, near its center, a great geyser spouted. In a moment the wall crumbled and they saw tons upon tons of the masonry melt away. The waters of the pond burst through in solid flood and charged down the valley, spreading wider and wider as it charged on, and bearing upon its crest every light and unstable structure found in its path...

May 5, 2012, 1:34am Top

Weston Of The Royal North-West Mounted Police - From the earliest years of the 20th century, the men of Canada's Royal North-West Mounted Police, or "the Mounties" as they became known, were popular characters in adventure stories, and figure prominently in the résumés of a number of successful authors of the 1920s and 1930s. One of them is Trygve Lund, who had the advantage over many of his competitors of knowing exactly what he was talking about. The frontispiece to the 1936 release, The Lone Trail Omnibus, which contains three of his novels, declares its author to be "late Strathcona's Horse, Royal Air Force and of the Royal North-West Mounted Police", while his works were always listed primly as being by "Captain T. Lund".

Lund's first novel, Weston Of The Royal North-West Mounted Police, was published in 1928, and concerns the experiences of a young Englishman, Richard Weston, who joins the Mounties and progresses from the rank of constable to that of sergeant. The book consists of six lengthy chapters, each containing a separate, self-contained adventure; and it is likely that it originally saw the light of day as a serial in a magazine.

When we first meet Weston, or "Wess" as he is known to his friends, he is kicking his heels in the uninspiring small town of Portage Junction, which sprang into life "when the rails were being pushed along the northern edge of the Manitoba and Saskatchewan Prairies towards Prince Albert". Weston is waiting for the anticipated promotion of another officer whose place he expects to take, with a simultaneous promotion to corporal. In the meantime, his duties are confined to keeping the peace. The main diversion in his life is the acquisition of a best pal, "Big" MacKay (real name Hector), after a difference of opinion over the worth and courage of the Mounties which is settled by a fist-fight. Afterwards, Weston teaches MacKay boxing, while receiving in exchange lessons in the Cree tongue. To his relief, Weston does finally receive his promotion, and is transferred to the bustling settlement of Portage Bend, further north - where as he knows and eagerly anticipates, his duties will often take him into the vastness known as "the Great Alone"...

As an adventure story, Weston Of The Royal North-West Mounted Police is satisfactory, offering plenty of excitement in the form of fights, gunplay, and pursuits through the wilderness - and even a little romance, although not for its hero. However, Weston's infallibility becomes a little tiresome; and the novel is actually more interesting when it focuses on some of the less perfect supporting characters, like Weston's second-in-command, Corporal Wilson. Another interesting touch is that, within the world of the text, "half-breeds" are not only taken for granted, but treated with respect. This attitude unfortunately doesn't extend to other groups of non-white-males, but in that the novel is simply the product of its time. The main problem here is Captain Lund's tin ear for dialogue, which is not helped by the fact that the characters in these "north-westerns" seem to be far more loquacious than their American counterparts. Meanwhile, Weston's addiction to "ten-dollar words", which is supposed to be humorous and endearing, is just annoying. ("Your manners seem to have become crude to indecorum during your rustication!")

However, these shortcomings are off-set by the novel's main strength, its vivid and heartfelt word-pictures of the beautiful and terrifying Canadian wilderness, and the way in which we are made to feel the characters' struggle for survival in a realm of bitter cold and immeasurable distances. That not everyone could cope with the enormity and isolation of the Canadian north is made soberly clear in a subplot about an ill-prepared new recruit, who begins to suffer from depression and unsteady nerves. However, Weston himself is mysteriously drawn to the northern expanses, not only during the short summer of verdent growth, rushing rivers and sleeping under the stars, but even more so during the brutal winter. At one point, he openly rejoices in receiving an assignment that will, he calculates, take him one month by dog-sleigh to reach his destination, one month to get the job done, and another month to get home. The extremities of the "Great Alone" and the physical demands it makes upon the individual are at the root of its attraction for him - as, we feel, they were for Trygve Lund; and the sections of this novel that deal with Weston pitting himself against the elements are when it most comes alive.

For the first week it was easy going, but one day during their second week, the expedition met with a reverse. They were travelling along a well-broken trail which traversed a lake some twenty miles long, when suddenly light gusts of wind commenced to twist the snow into spirals here and there, and from the horizon clouds like fine ribbons started to shoot towards the sun, while the temperature seemed to drop so low that the cold appeared to penetrate their clothes and chill the very marrow of their bones. They were in no doubt as to what these signs portended: a blizzard, that scourge of the northern winter, was rapidly approaching...

Edited: Jun 25, 2012, 1:43am Top

The Curved Blades - The wealthy Lucy Carrington - "Lady Lucy", as she likes to be called - is not the easiest person to live with. Dissatisfaction with herself, particularly her appearance, has made her ill-tempered, petulant and demanding; and she makes life extremely difficult and unpleasant for the three young people who are dependent upon her: Gray Haviland, a second cousin who handles her business affairs; Anita Frayne, her social secretary; and Pauline Stuart, her niece and co-heir. Indeed, of all her relatives Miss Carrington is fond only of her nephew, Carrington Loria - and that, as the others sometimes wryly observe, is because he doesn't live with her, but pursues his archaeological interests in Egypt, sending home beautiful gifts from time to time. Although almost fifty, Miss Carrington still longs for marriage, and has hopes of Count Henri Charlier, a guest of a neighbour whom the others suspect of being a fake and a fortune-hunter. One memorable night, a bridge-party ends in disaster, as Miss Carrington quarrels violently with both Anita and Pauline, finally ordering them both to pack their bags and leave. This threat has been made before but this time, both girls feel, she means it. For Anita dismissal is serious enough, but she can at least seek another job; for Pauline, it means the loss of half of Miss Carrington's fortune. The morning after the disastrous party, a pragmatic Pauline decides to seek a reconciliation with her aunt - and finds her dead, under the most bizarre circumstances. She is seated in an easy chair before the mirror in her boudoir, wearing an elaborate negligee and swathed in jewellery - and with a paper snake wrapped around her throat. Most unnerving of all, she is still smiling. A preliminary examination determines that she has a fractured skull, but a subsequent autopsy proves that the cause of death was poisoning...

I remarked during my review of The White Alley, the previous novel in Carolyn Wells' Fleming Stone series, that in it Wells showed encouraging signs of artistic growth. This is also true of The Curved Blades, although it takes a different form - and, I must say, a very welcome one. It has been amusingly obvious from the outset that Wells had more than a slight crush on her own creation, and to this point in the series it has led her to take him far more seriously than her novels really warrant; while his infallibility, and his habit of turning up late in proceedings and immediately setting everything to rights, has caused more than one critic to find him "insufferable". Here, however, Wells turns all that on its head.

First, Stone shows up much earlier in this novel than any of the others, and becomes a proper character rather than just a deus-ex-machina. Second, Wells seems to have developed an unexpected sense of humour about her detective-hero, and more than once treats him with an unprecedented degree of facetiousness. Third - and this is where things really start to get good - although Stone is quick enough to solve the mystery of the post-mortem fractured skull, he is for a long time completely baffled by the circumstances of Lucy Carrington's death; something we've never seen before. And lastly---during the course of his investigation, Fleming Stone falls in love - and with the prime suspect, no less. This gives us something else we've never seen before, a Fleming Stone unsure of himself, desperate to believe that his feelings for Pauline Stuart will sharpen his perceptions and help him prove her innocence, but fearful that in fact his emotions are skewing his judgement. The young detective, Hardy, who is assigned to the case, starts off worshipping at Stone's feet, but grows increasingly sceptical as "the great man" continues to flounder; particularly after it occurs to him exactly what the problem is...

Of course, by the end of the novel, Stone has proven Pauline's innocence, won her hand, exposed the murderer, and is his old, insufferable self again; but it sure is fun while it lasts.

The other wonderful thing about The Curved Blades is the extravagant weirdness of its mystery. Wells is fond of "impossible crimes", usually locked-room murders, but this too is something new - a scenario in which the fact that someone has cracked the skull of a dead woman with a blackjack is the least of its strangeness. The actual cause of death turns out to be poisoning with aconitine - a preparation of wolf's bane - which offers the immediate problem of where anyone could get such a thing. Then, too, how did Miss Carrington take it? As her doctor testifies, she had a horror of drugs of all sorts, and fought against taking the simplest remedy. It seems that the poison must have been in her food or drink, but the most obvious vehicle, her night-time glass of milk, is found to contain not aconitine, but a sleeping-powder - and in any event, the milk was untouched. It is finally concluded that someone must have persuaded Miss Carrington to take the aconitine voluntarily, in the guise of something else; and it is at this point that suspicion begins to fasten upon Pauline. Suspicion becomes something more when it is discovered that Pauline bought the paper snake - and since Miss Carrington had a well-known terror of snakes, no-one believes her when she claims her aunt asked her to. But no-one has any explanation for the last two facets of the mystery: why did Miss Carrington don all her jewellery that night? - and why was she smiling when she died...?

Although a lot of what we find in The Curved Blades is new, behind that sits the familiar framework of Wells' earlier novels. There's an hysterical maid, overly emotional women given to crying and fainting, and an inquest scene that goes on forever. However, even here we find Wells tweaking the formula. Anita Frayne, who most resembles Wells' previous heroines, turns out to be quite a nasty piece of work, deliberately casting suspicion upon Pauline and even lying to blacken the case against her, while playing the helpless ingenue for Gray Haviland's benefit. Pauline later claims that Anita has been working for some time to undermine her, in order to secure a greater piece of Miss Carrington's fortune for herself. Pauline herself, in spite of her emerging persecuted heroine status, is no plaster saint; her first thought in the aftermath of her aunt's death is to secure her jewels, her second that she is now mistress of the house, and that everyone is obliged to do as she says. At one point, as the two "ladies" scrap, an exasperated Fleming Stone wishes he had only male witnesses to deal with, because it's so much easier to tell when a man is lying. On the other hand, he believes Pauline's story about the snake on the grounds that if she was lying, she would have come up with something better. Meanwhile, the subplot concerning the Count is sickly amusing. Everyone but Miss Carrington is convinced he is a fake, although they can't actually prove it. (Pressed, Gray explains that the Count behaves just as he would, if he were trying to convince someone he was a Count.) But with all their jingoistic huffing and sniffing about "Frenchmen" and "fortune-hunters", it honestly doesn't seem to occur to Pauline, Gray or Anita that their real objection to the Count is that, if Miss Carrington marries him, they'll miss out on their expected inheritances, in hope of which they've all put up with so much...

Hardy looked at the man in amazement. He had expected a different mode of procedure from this talented sleuth. He had looked for a quiet, even icy, demeanor, and magical and instantaneous solution of all mystery. And here was the great man, clearly baffled at the queerly tangled web of evidence, and, moreover, caught in the toils of a woman whom Hardy fully believed to be the criminal herself.

May 5, 2012, 9:39am Top

All three of these sound like fun, Liz. Thanks for the reviews!

May 5, 2012, 5:39pm Top

Yes, three completely different books but all a lot of fun! Thanks for visiting.

May 5, 2012, 5:46pm Top

One thing that did disappoint me about The Curved Blades was its title. It's valid enough, I suppose, since it references the detail that finally gives Fleming Stone his breakthrough; but with such a weird crime, there were surely more evocative possibilities.

How about Murder Of A Dead Woman? The Smiling Corpse? Death Comes Twice?

Too much in poor taste, perhaps.

Edited: May 15, 2012, 7:19pm Top

The Cat's Eye - While walking on Hampstead Heath, Robert Anstey sees one man running away while, nearby, a woman struggles with a second. After her assailant flees, he finds that she has been slightly wounded with a knife. He helps her to a nearby house, where the housekeeper is reporting a murder to the police. The victim is Andrew Drayton, a collector of inscribed jewellery. The woman, Winifred Blake, explains that she was calling on Drayton to view his collection when the murder occurred, and that the man she was trying to detain was fleeing the scene. Drayton's brother, Sir Lawrence, a well-known lawyer, immediately calls in Dr John Thorndyke, with whom Anstey has worked closely in the past. Thorndyke inspects the scene and learns that, curiously, Drayton's collection consisted of pieces with a long history, but very little intrinsic value. The object of the crime seems to have been some pieces recently featured in a magazine article, a cat's-eye pendant and a gold locket in the shape of a book, which are missing. As Thorndyke pursues his investigation, what starts out looking like simple robbery-homicide is slowly revealed as a far more complex matter of identity and inheritance, a mystery with its roots in the politics of the 18th century. For Anstey, the matter becomes an intensely personal one when he falls in love with Winifred - who, because of her ability to identify one of Drayton's killers, is in danger of her life...

After the narrative experimentation of the previous entry in the series, Helen Vardon's Confession, The Cat's Eye is a return to the more established formula of the Thorndyke mysteries, and a very strong example of it. The narrative duties, as well as the role of sidekick, are taken up by Robert Anstey, who we have met before: Anstey is a K.C. who usually acts as leading counsel when Thorndyke is retained for the defence, and first appeared in this capacity back in The Red Thumb Mark. Anstey's other role here is romantic lead: Freeman likes to include a love-story in his mysteries, but having (with a strange lack of foresight) married off his usual narrator, Christopher Jervis, very early on, he was afterwards forced to find other ways of going about it. In Winifred Blake we have one of Freeman's more interesting heroines, an aspiring artist who in the meantime supports herself and her young brother, Percival, by drawing fashion-plates for magazines. Her first appearance in the novel, trying to physically restrain a suspected murderer and being fought off with a knife, is quite startling. It later turns out that during this struggle, Winifred came into possession of the missing gold locket, which got caught in her shawl. It is a curious item with a apparent cipher of Bible verses engraved on it, but although Winifred and Anstey look up the relevant verses, they can make nothing of the results.

Winifred explains that her interest in Drayton's collection was on behalf of Percival, who has been cut out of inheriting the Blake family estate because the marriage of a distant ancestor cannot be proved. Family history suggests, however, that a missing cat's-eye pendent might provide a clue to the whereabouts of some vital documents. Anstey is inclined to be a bit condescending about Winifred's fervent belief in "the family romance", as he puts it to himself, and he is surprised when Thorndyke takes a serious interest in it. Meanwhile, the police investigation into Andrew Drayton's murder has reached a strange dead end. Fingerprints were found at the scene of the crime, which were identified as those of a previously convicted thief, Joseph Hedges; yet suddenly this line of investigation is dropped, the police saying only that the identification was a mistake. Anstey and Winifred are both summoned to give testimony at the inquest into Drayton's death, and in the wake of this Anstey begins to suspect that Winifred is being followed. Thorndyke sees instantly the danger of Winifred's statement that she could identify one of the criminals, and puts her on her guard. Two attempts on Winifred's life do indeed follow, but she is not the only one in danger. In an effort to flush out the killer, Thorndyke offers himself as bait...

The Cat's Eye is an extremely satisfying mystery that does play fair by offering up all the clues needed to solve it---but which also hides them within such a wealth of detail that the reader, like Robert Anstey, is likely to get no further than a rueful feeling that the pieces are certainly all there...but how they fit together is quite another matter. Although admittedly an amateur as a sidekick, Anstey is rather slow on the uptake with respect to what the mystery is "about", and keeps getting frustrated with Thorndyke for giving so much of his attention to the history of the Blakes, when he should be investigating Andrew Drayton's murder. Being Thorndyke's colleague rather than his junior, Anstey does not hesitate to make his feelings known - to the reader, at least - and vents his exasperation via a number of his amusingly disrespectful observations. This leavening of humour is very welcome, because The Cat's Eye contains a surprising amount of violence: not just the opening murder, but a shocking physical attack on Winifred; while Thorndyke and Anstey narrowly avoid a literal death-trap that claims two other victims, and in the most horrible way. As always, this novel is a fascinating glimpse into both a changing London, and the contemporary state of criminal investigation. Here we discover that while, by 1923, fingerprints had become a vital investigative technique, their downside was that criminals were beginning to learn from their mistakes. Professional thief Joseph Hedges, for example, having once been convicted on fingerprint evidence, has taken to wearing gloves - which rather begs the question of what his prints were doing at the scene of Andrew Drayton's murder...

"Every fact," said Thorndyke, "is relevant to something, and if you accumulate a great mass of facts, inspection of the mass shows that the facts can be sorted out into related groups from which certain general truths can be inferred. The difference between the lawyer and the scientist is that one is seeking to establish some particular truth while the other seeks to establish any truth that emerges from the available facts."

May 5, 2012, 9:39pm Top

#122 > Not having read the book, I can tell you I would pick up a book called The Smiling Corpse in a heartbeat. Which probably says more about me than about the book. :)

May 5, 2012, 9:39pm Top

OK, I am trying to make my way through your thread because it really is very interesting, but I thought I had better delurk and say hi. Hi.

May 5, 2012, 9:53pm Top

>>#124 And me too! C'mon, who wouldn't??

>>#125 Hi, Mamie! Thanks for delurking. Are you really trying to toil through my long and winding thread? I hope you brought a picnic lunch. :)

May 5, 2012, 10:03pm Top

I brought wine.

May 5, 2012, 10:09pm Top

*perks up*

Oh, there's wine?

May 5, 2012, 11:16pm Top

Better yet!

Edited: Jul 22, 2012, 8:59pm Top

As usual with the novels of R. Austin Freeman, The Cat's Eye offers a number of interesting touches incidental to the main story-line. The work has a preface, but instead of defending the validity of Thorndyke's techniques, as is generally the case, here we have something far more serious. Just before this novel was published, a police officer was murdered using exactly the method by which an attempt is made on Winifred Blake's life. Understandably, Freeman wished to make it clear to the reader that this was simply a tragic coincidence, and in no way intended to exploit the incident. He also envisages, had his novel been published a little later, being accused of inspiring a copy-cat crime.

On a much lighter note--- Australia and Australians feature quite prominently in The Cat's Eye, and it is equally amusing and exasperating to note that, writing as late as 1923, Freeman is (in effect) picturing two out of every three Australians having criminal tendencies. The novel's one honest Australian gets murdered; make of that what you will.

Freeman also makes reference to "Australia and Tasmania", which is a rare error: Tasmania was a state, an official part of Australia, from 1901 onwards. (Although there was of course a notorious incident during the 1982 Commonwealth Games, when Tasmania was left off the map of Australia...)

Most oddly, one subplot in The Cat's Eye revolves around a mascot, or charm, which turns out to made out of the vertebra of an echidna - "an ant-eating porcupine", as Freeman puts it, again not entirely accurately, for the benefit of a frankly mystified Robert Anstey and, presumably, his equally puzzled readers.

If echidnas uber alles puzzled them, I wonder what they'd make of Leo, the rare albino echidna who lives at the Symbio Wildlife Park south of Sydney?

Here is Leo, who was hand-reared at the park after being found orphaned and very weak at a young age, with (as this photo's original caption rather unkindly puts it) "his less interesting friend, Albert."

No, of course you didn't need to know any of this. I just like echidnas.

May 6, 2012, 11:20am Top

The echidnas are adorable!

May 6, 2012, 12:58pm Top

The echidnas are indeed adorable. I like the "less interesting friend" just as much, but then I am a brunette myself. :)

May 6, 2012, 4:41pm Top

Yes, I sympathise with Albert too; but then, I know what it feels like to be "the less interesting friend"...

May 6, 2012, 6:06pm Top

I also like echidnas! I brought home a stuffed toy echidna from my trip to australia in '97. Cutest stuffed animal ever! Not as cute as the real thing though

May 6, 2012, 6:16pm Top

Fun fact: baby echidnas are called "puggles".

May 8, 2012, 5:18am Top

#73 "I hope you noticed that because of you, I overhauled my ongoing series listing." And very nice it looks too. I accept no responsibility for this btw :-)

#117 "although she does finally marry and "settle down" (horrible expression!). After she did so, however, her sales dropped off." :-) That reminded me of the Anne of Green Gables series. Spoilers The books became much less interesting to me after Anne marries Gilbert. She was so much less fun after that. I've downloaded Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill, looking forward to adding another series to my list.

#130 Very cute. And puggles - who'd have thought?

I'm glad to hear it sounds like your library woes may be over.

Edited: May 8, 2012, 8:08pm Top

Hi, Heather!

Strictly speaking, I should say baby monotremes are called puggles, I have no idea why.

Yes, it was quite a relief to my library access restored, almost as good as new. I only hope they keep it up when it becomes the standard system of access.

My shortlist TBR contains about four new series...I must be out of my mind....

Had another read this and thought of you moment the other day. At the conclusion of R. Austin Freeman's The Cat's Eye, the dreaded Trichinopoly makes another appearance:

Thorndyke turned an impassive face towards his guest. "On these triumphal occasions," said he, "I usually smoke a Trichinopoly cigar. On this occasion, I presume, I am expected to refrain."
"Not at all," repled Drayton. "I think we can endure the Trichy with reasonable fortitude; what we can't endure is the agony of curiosity."

Re: Ruth Fielding, I guess there's a reason why fairy-tales end with "...and they lived happily ever after", rather than with "...and then she found out all the fun and excitement in her life was over." :)

The fun and excitement - and the independence of action - in these stories was presumably what the critics felt was "giving girls a false idea of life"; no such objection was ever made to the boys' stories, of course.

There's a new "something to look out for" in the twenties and thirties: married couples who had fun. Were Nick and Nora Charles the first, I wonder?

Edited: May 9, 2012, 1:51am Top

Finished Behind A Mask: The Unknown Thrillers Of Louisa May Alcott - I will try to post a short piece on each of the collected works.

Now reading The Back Bay Murders by Roger Scarlett, the second in the "Inspector Kane" series, for TIOLI #10.

Edited: May 15, 2012, 7:22pm Top

Finished The Back Bay Murders - review to come. (Weekend to go...)

Now reading Up North, the second of the novels of Trygve Lund collected in The Lone Trail Omnibus. And I've just realised that it, too, deals with Richard Weston of the Royal North-West Mounted Police, which means that without even realising it---

---I've started reading another series.


Edited: May 14, 2012, 6:26pm Top

So---my hunt for the earliest examples of detective novels continues.

Although France was terribly important in the development of crime fiction of all sorts, most of it is told from the point of view of the criminal! - criminal masterminds, masters of disguise, secret societies and death-defying cat-burglars abound, leaving very little room for the forces of law and order. A possible exception is Paul Feval's Jean Diable, which, while also focusing upon its anti-hero, as its title suggests, sometimes makes the lists of early detective novels because it does devote significant space to the pursuit of the titular criminal by a Scotland Yard detective - albeit the novel is set before there was a Scotland Yard. That anachronism is counterbalanced by the fact that the gentleman in question, Gregory Temple, may be literature's first scientific detective.

In America, I can't find any nominations between Metta Fuller Victor in the mid-1860s and Anna Katharine Green from 1878 onwards, which seems strange. The short story was certainly flourishing, and there were plenty of magazine serials about railway detectives and such, but full-fledged novels seem thin on the ground. So Green's The Leavenworth Case retains its standing.

It is a commonplace to say that Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone was the first English detective novel - albeit with another "albeit" - albeit the detective doesn't actually solve the crime. Recently, however, The Moonstone has been supplanted in the timeline by The Notting Hill Mystery by "Charles Felix" (Charles Warren Adams), published in serialised form five years earlier and now available as an inexpensive paperback and in ebook form (thank you, British Library!). Though of course, the pronouncement that The Notting Hill Mystery was "the" earliest English detective novel provoked a flurry of counter-suggestions, the most interesting to me being Mary Elizabeth Braddon's first novel, The Trail Of The Serpent.

And don't think the northern hemisphere had a monopoly on the form! Even though by the 1860s Australia was only just beginning to have its own literature, sure enough, someone wrote a detective novel - and again it was a woman: Fraud And Force: A Tale Of The Bush was published in 1865 by Ellen Davitt*. And there is an earlier nomination again in John Lang's The Forger's Wife, which does contain a detective, although there seems some debate over whether it can be classified as a "detective novel" as such.

The hunt continues...

(*Anthony Trollope's sister-in law!)

May 14, 2012, 11:01pm Top

Finished A Genius For Letters - rambling yet hopefully short review to come.

And now---time for a new series! Because I haven't started one for at least two books!

In America, in 1910, a professional rival to R. Austin Freeman's Dr John Thorndyke arose in the form of Arthur B. Reeves' Professor Craig Kennedy, "scientific detective". Various arguments followed (mainly jingoistic, from what I can tell) over which series was superior; the consensus seems to be that while they are comparable in terms of their scientific accuracy, the Thorndyke stories are more realistic, the Kennedy ones more extravagant and science-fiction-y. We'll see.

Now reading The Silent Bullet - and since I've allowed in "blood" and "body" for TIOLI #10, I see no reason I shouldn't be allowed in with "bullet".

May 16, 2012, 2:52am Top

#140 Fascinating stuff, thanks for posting that Liz.

#142 A Genius for Letters sounds really interesting - ramble away!

I also wanted to say that I did a long overdue catch-up on your blog and really enjoyed your post about James II and the Glorious Revolution which now makes a lot more sense to me.

May 16, 2012, 6:26pm Top

Hi, Heather! Thanks for stopping by.

ramble away!

No fear not, I'm afraid. :)

As you could probably tell, the post on James II was all about me trying to figure out what the heck went on! It's been weird as a non-historian stumbling over bits of the puzzle over the last couple of years and not being able to see how they fit together.

May 16, 2012, 6:32pm Top

Finished The Silent Bullet - review to come.

Now reading The Revenge Of Anguished English by Richard Lederer.

Edited: May 18, 2012, 12:47am Top

Finished the Revenge Of Anguished English - which means I've also finished a series!!

Yes, yes, yes...a four-book series. No need to rub it in.

Now reading Ruth Fielding At Briarwood Hall; or, Solving The Campus Mystery - the second book in a thirty-book series...


May 18, 2012, 7:11am Top

146> Hey, a finished series is a finished series! I've got series where I need to read just one more book and I still haven't finished them.

So celebrate - anytime you can say a sentence with "finished" in it that relates to your TBR stack, it's a cause for celebration! ;)

Edited: May 19, 2012, 6:07pm Top

Yes, you're quite right - we can't afford to be too picky! :)

Finished Ruth Fielding Of Briarwood Hall, which was for TIOLI #4.

Now reading The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green...the first in a twelve-book series...

May 20, 2012, 10:12am Top

"Hey, a finished series is a finished series!" Yep - I'm going to count two book series as a finished series if I can ever get through Rose in Bloom so a four book series certainly counts.

May 20, 2012, 11:35am Top

Wow, love your thread, so interesting. I am making my way back tomorrow when I have more time to read it all. First, I love how you include the publication dates in your reading list at the top of the thread and I am very interested in you study of detective novels. So happy I visited.

May 20, 2012, 6:27pm Top

Hi, Heather! Nothing I read ever seems to stop at a single sequel. :(

I see you've snabbled a copy of The Notting Hill Mystery - excellent! That's on my shortlist TBR, too, so I'll look forward to exchanging notes.

Hi, Michelle - thanks for stopping by - it's great to have you here! For chronological obsessives like me, it's all about the publication date. :)

I hope you don't mind, but I swiped this quote from Christopher Morley from your home-page - it seemed appropriate:

Read, every day, something no one else is reading.

Now when I get that blank / puzzled look over my beloved obscure books, I'll have an answer!

May 20, 2012, 7:27pm Top

Finished The Leavenworth Case - and I'm so far behind in my reviewing, it's really not worth talking about...

Now reading The Murder Of Dave Brandon by Trygve Lund, for TIOLI #10.

May 22, 2012, 6:23pm Top

Finished The Murder Of Dave Brandon - and I am never going to catch up these reviews...

But be that as it may, now reading Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers, also for TIOLI #10.

Edited: May 23, 2012, 11:29pm Top

Finished Strong Poison.

Now reading The Unlatched Door from 1920, Lee Thayer's second novel but the first in her long-running series featuring police detective Peter Clancy.

Edited: May 24, 2012, 6:33pm Top

Lee Thayer's second novel but the first in her long-running series featuring police detective Peter Clancy.

Heh! Well---yes and no. It turns out that Peter Clancy, police detective, is also Peter the office boy from Thayer's first novel, The Mystery Of the Thirteenth Floor, which (although written only the year before) we must now presume was set some ten or twelve years earlier.

It seems that retconning is nothing new!

Edited: May 26, 2012, 3:53am Top

Behind A Mask: The Unknown Thrillers Of Louisa May Alcott - The enduring success of Little Women and its sequels has given Louisa May Alcott a permanent reputation as a writer of didactic fiction for young people; but there was another, hidden side to the author. Like her alter-ego, Jo March, Alcott had for five years helped support her family by publishing melodramatic sensation stories featuring extravagant plots, exotic settings, violent passions and transgressive women. Some of these stories were published anonymously, others under the pseudonym "A. M. Barnard"; only rarely did Alcott append her own name.

Also like Jo, Alcott eventually gave up her blood-and-thunder stories in favour of more frankly moral tales. In 1867 she was commissioned to write "a story for girls", and while she struggled with the composition of her novel - "I plod away, though I don't enjoy this sort of thing," she commented at the time - the success of Little Women put paid to her secret career. Alcott was ambivalent about her thrillers; clearly she enjoyed writing them more than she felt she "should"; and when she lost her financial excuse for doing so, she drew a line under that chapter of her authorial life. This early phase of Alcott's career remained unknown to the reading public at large until the 1940s, when "literary sleuths" Madeleine Stern and Leona Rostenberg tied the "A. M. Barnard" pseudonym to Alcott and set to work tracking down her lost stories, which have since been re-published in a series of collections.

The first of these volumes, Behind A Mask: The Unknown Thrillers Of Louisa May Alcott, collects four of her stories: Pauline's Passion And Punishment, first published in 1863, for which Alcott won $100 in a magazine's short-story contest; Behind A Mask; or, A Woman's Power, from 1866; and The Mysterious Key, And What It Opened and The Abbot's Ghost; or, Maurice Treherne's Temptation, both from 1867.

In The Mysterious Key, a visitor to the Trevlyn household brings with him disaster and death. Richard Trevlyn sits down to write a letter of confession to his young, pregnant wife, intending to commit suicide afterwards, but dies of heart failure first. Mrs Trevlyn, who overheard the shocking secret revealed about her husband, goes into labour and gives birth to a daughter. As soon as she is sufficiently recovered, however, all her thoughts turn to her husband's confession, which she conceals where she believes no-one will ever find it, the only clue to its whereabouts a key which she carries in a locket around her neck. Some years later, a young boy, Paul, English-born but Italian-bred, infiltrates the household as companion-servant to the daughter of the house, Lillian. Unbeknownst to his benefactors, Paul has sworn an oath to uncover the Trevlyn secret and restore the usurped rights of an unacknowledged relative---a task complicated by Paul's growing love for the beautiful Lillian...

The Abbot's Ghost deals with a shared secret between the cousins Sir Jasper and Maurice Treherne, involving a disgraceful act committed some years ago in Paris. Soon after that time, Maurice saved Jasper's life after a boating accident, a physical trial that ruined his own health and has since confined him to a wheelchair. The doctors suggest that a second severe shock may restore Maurice's mobility, but otherwise hold out little hope. Maurice's condition places a barrier between himself and his lovely young cousin, Octavia, and he is forced to promise his aunt that he will not court her, or interfere in the courting of the girl by others, unless there is real reason to expect a full recovery. Matters reach a crisis with the visit to the family of General and Mrs Snowdon, the latter of whom was involved with both Jasper and Maurice in Paris before her marriage. Seeing Maurice's love for Octavia, the jealous woman drives them apart by exploiting an ugly rumour and casting doubt on Maurice's character, knowing that he can only clear his name by breaking a most solemn promise...

Pauline's Passion And Punishment is the story of the beautiful, tempestuous Pauline Valary, who is betrayed by her lover, Gilbert Redmond. Having declared his love for her and solemnly promised her marriage, the impecunious Gilbert instead marries a young heiress for her money. Although declaring that her love for Gilbert has turned into profound contempt, Pauline swears that she will be revenged upon him for her suffering. She recruits to her cause Manuel Laroche, who loves her ardently: she promises to marry him, and to be a true wife, if he will first assist her in her scheme. Blinded by love, Manuel agrees. The two track the Redmonds from Cuba to New Orleans, where Pauline soon sees that Gilbert has already tired of his wife, Barbara, and that reawakening his love for her will be a simple matter. Together, Pauline and Manuel set about exploiting Gilbert's passions and weaknesses, intending to drag him into the depths of misery and regret - but instead precipitate a shocking tragedy...

Behind A Mask finds a new governess, Jean Muir, joining the household of the Coventry family, which consists of Mrs Coventry, her grown sons, Gerald and Edward, and young daughter, Bella. Although she soon makes herself indispensible, Jean is far from the meek, self-effacing creature she appears to be. She is, in fact, a consummate actress, who has ingratiated herself with the Coventrys with every intention of scheming her way to marriage, security and wealth. So successful is Jean's manoeuvring that the head of the family, the elderly Sir John Coventry, begins to seek her company; Edward falls in love with her; and, in spite of certain suspicions, Gerald finds himself growing more and more intrigued by her---until at last she can take her choice amongst them. But Jean Muir is a woman with many, many secrets; and even as it seems she has realised her ambitions, her past begins to close in on her...

It can be judged even from these synopses how very far we are in these stories from the usual perception of Louisa May Alcott - and why she so enjoyed her secret hobby - and why she felt guilty doing so. Several things about these stories strike us immediately, even aside from their unabashed wallowing in secrets, lies and uncontrollable passions. The first is that, amusingly, Alcott uses England as a setting in exactly the same spirit that the earlier English writers of Gothic novels used Italy - that is, as an exotic location where anything was possible. Only Pauline's Passion And Punishment, which is set partially in Cuba, touches American soil. The second significant characteristic is that Alcott's stories are more conventional when they focus upon men. The Mysterious Key is probably the most conventional - although the term is used relatively, with any number of sensation-novel tropes putting in an appearance. However, it is indicative of the story's comparative lack of shock value that it was the only one of these four tales that Alcott published under her own name. The Abbot's Ghost, meanwhile, seems to be likewise expoiting the tropes of the genre, but then startles the reader with a genuine supernatural manifestation. The most daring touch in this story, however, is its redemption of its "bad woman", Mrs Snowden, who in almost any other 19th century context would be considered beyond the pale for her conduct. Here, Alcott challenges convention by refusing to endorse a black-and-white, Madonna / whore view of womanhood.

Pauline's Passion And Punishment was Alcott's first foray into sensation literature, and it shows. The story is an undisciplined, wildly melodramatic romp through the extremities of human behaviour; and in Pauline Varlay we have - as the story's very title makes evident - a woman who will be made to suffer for her transgressions. Pauline's sins are, indeed, two-fold: she does not merely, and with deliberation, open herself up to the destructive power of hatred and vengeance, but commits the still greater sin of corrupting the honest love of Manuel Laroche (who is several years younger than her, hardly more than a boy) and turning it into a weapon that she can use against her venal betrayer, Gilbert Redmond. Meanwhile, whatever the final outcome of the scheme, Redmond's young wife, Barbara, who knew Pauline in the past and considers her a friend, will inevitably be collatoral damage. That it will all end in tears is evident from the outset---but the nature and extent of the climactic tragedy may well still take the reader by surprise.

I've left the best till last here. When Alcott's publisher called Behind A Mask; or, A Woman's Power "a story of peculiar power" he was understating the case: this is an astonishing piece of writing; although perhaps the reader needs to be thoroughly familar with the conventions of the 19th century to appreciate just how extraordinary this story is. Alcott's most brilliant stroke here is to not spring the truth about Jean Muir as a late-story shock, but to allow the reader "behind the mask" almost from the outset, so that every single piece of calculated manipulation is clearly evident. (She also includes an actual "unmasking" scene that may well be more shocking to a modern audience than it was to contemporary readers.) To each new person she meets, Jean is a different woman: she plays role after role throughout the story, shifting her ground almost momentarily and being literally all things to all people. How readers in the 1860s reacted to Jean I cannot begin to imagine, although I'd like to think that a great many women got a giddy thrill out of her. In Jean we have a challenge to all the most deeply-rooted stereotypes of the time. She is a woman intelligent, bold and cynical, who coolly exploits male assumptions about the female sex. Worse still, her actions carry with them the horrifying suggestion that any woman, no matter how seemingly meek and mild, might be wearing a mask. And just when we think Alcott can't possibly transgress any further, she does it, bringing her story to a conclusion that turns everything - and I mean everything - that we think we know about 19th century literature on its head.

When alone Miss Muir's conduct was decidedly peculiar. Her first act was to clench her hands and mutter between her teeth, with passionate force, "I'll not fail again if there is power in a woman's wit and will!" She stood a moment motionless, with an expression of almost fierce disdain on her face, then shook her clenched hand is if menacing some unseen enemy...

May 26, 2012, 5:56am Top

The Back Bay Murders - Inspector Kane, accompanied by his friend, the lawyer Underwood, investigates a report emanating from the boarding-house of Mrs Quincy, on Beacon Street, where the room of one of the lodgers, Mr Prendergast, has been broken into. Prendergast himself turns out to be a highly nervous young man, given to making accusations of persecution, but there is no doubt that his room has been interfered with: the drawers have been ransacked, and on the floor are some dark stains that look disturbingly like blood. Nothing is missing, but Kane takes samples of the stains, promising to report back with the result of the analysis. The test for blood proves negative, but in spite of this Kane admits being disturbed by the atmosphere at the boarding-house and decides to call with the results in person. He and Underwood return to Beacon Street, only to find Mr Quincy in the middle of calling the police. Upstairs, Prendergast lies dead in his room, stabbed in the throat... Assisted by his colleague, Sergeant Moran, Kane takes charge of the investigation, trying to determine the whereabouts of the lodgers at the time of the murder. He is bothered by the insistence of Dr Spinelli, one of the lodgers, that Prendergast's death occurred half an hour before his body was found, far more exact a time than the police surgeon can give. Also disturbing is the white feather found underneath Prendergast's body, for which no source is evident...

This second novel by "Roger Scarlett" (Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page) is a sophomore effort in more ways than one. The Back Bay Murders is very much "part of a series". It reproduces exactly the set-up of its predecessor, The Beacon Hill Murders, with the progressive Kane assisted, and sometimes hindered, by the unimaginative Moran, and Underwood providing the narrative. The problem is that there is no reason for Underwood to be in this story at all. In The Beacon Hill Murders he was a guest at the fatal dinner-party, and in the house while the murders were committed; here, he is simply tags along after Kane, having no personal involvement and no official standing, and apparently feeling no compulsion to meet his own professional duties by turning up for work occasionally. Of course, the "Watson" very often does have somewhat dubious standing in mystery stories, but then it is the obligation of the author to disguise that fact as much as possible, which Scarlett fails to do. This in turn draws attention to the deficiencies in the characterisation of Inspector Kane, who is given to unspoken inferences, long silences and sudden, unexplained actions. Without Underwood to speculate endlessly about what he might be thinking and doing, the reader would be at a loss indeed - and this novel would be a lot shorter.

However, in spite of these structural weaknesses, The Back Bay Murders is still an intriguing, if not entirely satisfactory, mystery. Its main attraction is that, like The Beacon Hill Murders, it starts out looking like a geographical mystery, with sketches appended showing the arrangement of the various rooms in the boarding-house and who occupied them, but over time grows increasingly interested in the psychology of the killer, whose motive is finally revealed as lying well outside the normal boundaries of hate, greed and enlightened self-interest. This novel also juggles its cast of characters well: the household consists of Mr and Mrs Quincy, their servants and their eight surviving lodgers, in addition to which Mr Weed, the blind music-lover, had a visit from a friend on the night of the murder; and Kane and Moran must carefully test everyone's account of their movements in order to whittle down the list of suspects.

It presently emerges that the wild card in the pack is Mr Weed's visitor, the aptly named Mr Hyde, who vanishes in the wake of the murder, leaving behind a trail of evidence that leads to a room in another boarding-house, and to the murder weapon, a bloody knife. An appreciative Kane interprets the signs correctly, deducing that there is in fact no "Mr Hyde", but that one of Mrs Quincy's lodgers has been carrying on an elaborate, long-term masquerade. The question then becomes one of why?---whether this was purely connected to the murder of Prendergast, or whether there was another, perhaps ever darker motive... A potential breakthrough occurs when Mrs Quincy telephones Kane and asks to see him; although she insists that the matter is not urgent. In any event, before Kane can visit her he receives another call informing him of Mrs Quincy's death. The unfortunate woman is found on the floor of her bedroom, the cause of death later determined to be poisoning with hydrocyanic acid, which was injected into her arm - yet the door of her room was locked. The sound of her body falling both alerted her husband and gave the exact time of her death - which alibis Kane's leading suspects, who were playing bridge together in a room across the hall...

It was a glistening, dark red pool, which grew larger as I watched it---even Kane could not doubt that this was blood, for near it lay the body of Arthur Prendergast. He had fallen on his right side. One arm was outstretched, the other drawn up so that his clenched fist pressed against his throat. His knees were bent. From a wound in the left side of his neck a red stream had oozed. He was dead, I knew; the glazed, staring eyes in the distorted face could not have belonged to a living man.

May 26, 2012, 6:00am Top

Actually, I have another problem with The Back Bay Murders, which I refrained from mentioning in the body of the review because I guess it is my problem, rather than the novel's.

Attention mystery writers:

If you clearly don't know much about the way that cats behave, possibly you shouldn't make a cat's behaviour a significant factor in the solution to your mystery.

Edited: May 26, 2012, 7:11am Top

Up North: A Tale From Northern Canada - To the astonishment of his friends, when Sergeant Richard Weston of the Royal North-West Mounted Police finally earns some extended leave, he decides to spend it, not visiting "the Old Country" - that is, England - as per Mountie tradition, but in the wilds to the north of his posting at Portage Bend City. Weston has located what he considers an ideal place for a holiday, an island on Clear Water Lake, where he intends to build a shack and spend a leisurely summer "fishing, shooting, reading, loafing and smoking". He carries out the first part of his plan, in company with his old friend, Angus Mackenzie, but Weston's peace and quiet are destined to be short-lived. Arriving in the area are the millionaire Hiram J. Morgan, his wife and daughter, and entourage, on a camping holiday. Though exasperated both by the invasion of his privacy and the high-handedness of Miss Marion Morgan, Weston finds himself drawn more and more into the party's activities - and just as well: there are other visitors in the area, two representatives of the criminal classes of New York, who are there to kidnap Miss Morgan and hold her to ransom. However, not only are these gentlemen entirely out of their element in the wilderness, they soon learn to their dismay that in tackling the Royal North-West Mounted Police, they have bitten off a great deal more than they can chew...

This second entry in Trygve's Lund's series about Richard Weston of the Mounties is a fairly light-hearted adventure tale, which takes neither its dastardly criminals not their acts too seriously, but instead finds humour in their wilderness misadventures and the certainty of their falling foul of the novel's two-fisted hero. Slippery Jim and his partner Joe might do all very well on the mean streets of New York (although we are given leave to doubt even that), but in the Canadian north they are fish out of water, easy prey for Weston, whose rescue of the briefly abducted Miss Morgan is as much about resuming his holiday as it is about issues of law and order.

Much more surprising than the vaniquishing of our Big Apple bad guys is the novel's romantic bait-and-switch. When the beautiful but snooty Miss Morgan starts issuing orders and demanding her own way, we automatically wait for the moment when she is cut down to size by the no-nonsense Weston, and then promptly falls into his arms. It never comes. To Trygve Lund's great credit, we are spared the too-familiar plot of a bossy woman falling for the man who "masters" her, and Miss Morgan departs Canada as big a pain as when she arrived, and with a very low opinion indeed of Richard Weston, R.N.W.M.P. Her behaviour has likewise left Weston with some scars, and he is on the verge of a life-time career of committed bachelorhood, if not indeed woman-hating, when he is confronted by Miss Betty Elliott, the sister-in-law of his close friend, Allan Gunn. Betty has arrived in Portage Bend on her way to visit her sister and brother-in-law, but learns to her dismay that neither her letter nor her recent telegram have been delivered to Beaver Narrows, since no-one happened to be passing that way. Reluctantly, Weston offers his services - and soon finds that Betty is a very different proposition indeed from the spoiled, city-loving Miss Morgan...

As was the case with Weston Of The Royal North-West Mounted Police, the real strength of Up North is the loving descriptions of the Canadian wilderness, this time pictured for us during the summer rather than the winter. In sharp contrast to Marion Morgan, who finds the scenery wearinsome and longs for the flesh-pots of New York, Betty Elliott proves herself to be of "the right stuff" by not batting an eyelid at the long canoe-and-camping-trip needed to get her to her relatives, by insisting on pitching in with the chores (and becoming a dab-hand at soda-biscuit preparation), and developing an abiding love for the wilderness that echoes if not matches Weston's own. The romance is lightly sketched, in keeping with the overall tone of the novel; and even when the story turns serious - Weston is tracked down and shot by an old enemy - the main consequence is that Weston reveals the state of his heart while delerious. However, having at length worked up the courage to speak to Betty (he doesn't know about his fever revelations), Weston finds an enemy in his beloved Canada: distances are not easily overcome; and nor, for that matter, are duties.

But it all ends happily, of course. We've had hints before about Weston's family in England, and we now discover that, upon the death of a cousin, he had become the heir to his uncle, the Earl of Ernemount, who chooses this time to visit his nephew and finds himself shaking hands approvingly with a niece-to-be. The Earl is briefly taken aback by the prevailing egalitarianism that greets him; but even when dealing with the English aristocracy, Canada casts its spell...

Although this was her first trip into the wilderness, Miss Elliott seemed to slip into the life of trail and camp with an ease and quiet confidence which surprised and delighted her companions. From the first day she had insisted on wielding a paddle instead of confining herself to being a mere passenger. And Weston's unspoken prophecy, that her toil would cease promptly with the appearance of the first blister, and at the first spasm of fatigue and aches in back and arms, was decisively disproved. She laughed at fatigue and aches, simply pricked the blisters with a needle and stuck on a bit of plaster, and carried on.

May 26, 2012, 7:03pm Top

A Genius For Letters: Booksellers And Bookselling From The 16th To The 20th Century - I was led to this collection of essays edited by Robin Myers and Michael Harris by a conversation at my blog concerning the authenticity or otherwise of the short fictions attributed to Aphra Behn, which were published some years after her death. Germaine Greer's essay, Honest Sam. Briscoe, expresses scepticism but sheds no definite light upon the subject. However, it is an interesting case-study of one of the many dubious practioners in the world of bookselling in late 17th century London. A good companion-piece is Giles Mandelbrote's essay, From the warehouse to the counting-house, which is a broader examination of bookselling practices at the time: where different sorts of bookshops were located in London, how customers were attracted, what sorts of books sold best, and the financial knife-edge walked by many in this precarious trade. To my immense amusement, Mandelbrote illustrates some of his points by quoting from two contemporary publications offering an insider's view of bookselling: the second part of The English Rogue and The Unlucky Citizen, both by my old friend Francis Kirkman. (While using these quotes, Mandelbrote also cautions the reader to take anything Kirkman says with a grain of salt.)

The rest of A Genius For Letters examines various aspects of the book trade over the passing centuries. Booksellers and bookbinders, as the title suggests, looks at the work of the artisans of binding, and points out that book collecting was originally about the binding and illumination of books. Dealing across frontiers discusses Italy, which during the 18th century was the focus of the European book trade, but which offered numerous challenges because it was at the time not one country, but divided into states, each with their own borders and customs trade.

Antiquarian bookselling in Britain in 1725 discusses the evolution of book collecting as we now understand it, the specialists who hunted out rare gems for the wealthy, and the growing attraction of "the first edition". This essay also points out, amusingly, that books gained value as collectors' items chiefly because the availability of consumer goods failed to keep pace with the emergence of the nouveau riche in the increasingly commercialised 18th century: rich men had to display their wealth somehow, and first editions and rare books became one of the main ways.

Book advertisements in mid-18th-century newspapers traces the expansion and diversification of literature in the 18th century through the shifting patterns of advertising. Though most booksellers derived the bulk of their income from non-fiction works, including books on religion, history and, increasingly, science, the novel became an increasingly important component of the trade, as reflected by the emergence of newspapers and magazines devoted largely or entirely to literary reviews. 'An illiterate fellow of a bookseller' is a case-study of the famous publishing house John Murray, focusing not upon its many successes in the 19th century, but its rise in the late 18th century under its tutular founder. Bookselling by the backdoor looks at the struggles of many book dealers in the 19th century, and the eventual collapse of the circulating libraries; while The secret history of Smith & Elder uses The Publishers' Circular as a basis for dissecting the activities of another of the 19th century's leading publishing houses - and for debunking many of the claims made in George Murray Smith's memoir, "Recollections Of A Long And Busy Life"; while admitting that Smith's determined name-dropping of famous authors is informative in itself.

Several of these essays have been drawn upon to inform a rather rambling blog post, which is here.

By the mid 18th century bookselling was established as the key factor in the book business. On the one hand, the bookseller was at the centre of the interlocking range of associated activities involved in the manufacture and distribution of a multi-form product. On the other, he helped to shape the consumption of print in the market, responding to and guiding the taste of readers as customers.

May 26, 2012, 9:26pm Top

The Silent Bullet - This 1910 volume by Arthur B. Reeve collects twelve previously published short stories chronicling the exploits of Professor Craig Kennedy. It is difficult not to see these tales of "scientific detection" as an American riposte to the Dr John Thorndyke stories of R. Austin Freeman, and the similarities and differences between the two series add an extra level of entertainment.

In between teaching at a university that we infer to be Columbia, Craig Kennedy advocates the application of science, including the latest technology, to the solution of crime. Although initially sceptical, Kennedy's friend and room-mate, reporter Walter Jameson, vouches for him to the police detective in charge of the investigation into the baffling death of Wall Street broker, Kerr Parker, who was shot dead in his own board-room surrounded by his co-workers - only no-one heard the bullet. Kennedy's successful pursuit of the murderer gives him an "in" with the police, with whom he forges a friendly working partnership. Increasingly, Kennedy's professional abilities and familiarity with cutting-edge technology see him called in as a consultant when the police themselves are stumped. Jameson, who acts as Kennedy's "Watson", is the other great beneficiary of this arrangement, as his paper, the Star, is repeatedly given an exclusive in exchange for not printing anything Kennedy doesn't want made public.

The stories in The Silent Bullet are enormously informative in respect of my observations about early detective fiction in England and America. Kennedy's constant litany is how shamefully behind the rest of the world America is when it comes to applying science to criminal investigation: something that is also, although more obliquely, evident from contemporary mystery novels. There is, for example, a significantly casual reference here to fingerprints, which at this time in America seem to be regarded simply as little more than an interesting phenomenon; though we are told that the use of fingerprint investigation is so advanced in Europe that criminals there are already working on ways to evade it. However, Kennedy himself makes a point of staying absolutely up-to-date with technological advances, and in contact with numerous European scientists; and again and again he applies a technique or a piece of technology developed elsewhere in the world to his crime-fighting.

Thus we hear about "thermit, an invention of a chemist named Goldschmidt, of Essen, Germany"; ricin, which was "lately isolated by Professor Robert, of Rostock"; a specfic test for human blood "discovered by a German scientist, Doctor Uhlenhuth"; "the process of electrical resuscitation developed by Professor Leduc of the Nantes Ecole de Medicin"; and even "Tesla's theory" of atmospheric conduction. The one home-grown piece of technology in evidence is the silencer, the work of "a Hartford inventor" - that is, Hiram Maxim - which is of course responsible for the "silent bullet" of the opening story. Another noteworthy instance of now-commonplace technology is the use of a new device called "the microphone" - although the fact that Kennedy uses it to eavesdrop on a private conversation between a suspect and his lawyer tends to make the modern reader's hair stand on end. Some of the stories in this volume are clearly based on real events, including one which contains a fictionalised account of the circumstances surrounding the death of the New York banker, Charles Henry Warren, and his family at the hands - more or less literally - of "Typhoid" Mary Mallon.

Overall, the most striking thing about The Silent Bullet - and I hope I don't offend anyone by saying this! - is how very American these stories are, dealing as they do with guns, ballistics, safe-cracking, gangs, kidnapping, organised crime, tragedies at air shows, financial collapses on Wall Street, revolutions in Latin America - even radium poisoning! We are, indeed, a world away from that inhabited by Dr John Thorndyke, with his quiet rooms in the Temple and his Trichinolopoly cigars. It is tempting to think that this might have been deliberate on the part of Arthur Reeve; but in any event, the sharp contrast in the respective milieux of these two famous "scientific detectives" is part of the charm. That said, at this stage the Thorndyke stories certainly have the edge. Though individually entertaining, there is a certain sameness about Arthur Reeve's approach that works against the collection as a whole. Reeve is not (at least at this point in his career) as talented a writer as R. Austin Freeman, and has a tendency to focus upon science at the expense of character-building. In addition, the Freeman stories incline to the medical / biological / geological / chemical end of the scientific spectrum, while Reeve prefers electronics and physics; the former are more to my personal taste, which of course implies no criticism of the latter. It will probably come as no surprise, then, that my favourite stories in The Silent Bullet were those taking a more life-sciences approach, including the previously mentioned The Bacteriological Detective and "Spontaneous Combustion", which as its title indicates involves a mysterious and gruesome death by burning - and quotes Dickens, to boot.

"My idea of the thing, Jameson," continued Kennedy, "is that the professor of criminal science ought to work with, not against, the regular detectives. They're all right. They're indispensible, of course. Half the secret of success nowadays is organisation. The professor of criminal science should be merely what the professor in a technical school often is---a sort of consulting engineer. For instance, I believe that organisation plus science would go far toward clearing up that Wall Street case."

May 27, 2012, 6:17pm Top

There is one major surprise tucked away in The Silent Bullet, something I certainly wasn't expecting to find in the detective literature - or for that matter, any literature - from this period: a first-hand account of what it's like to undergo a mescaline trip.

May 27, 2012, 6:31pm Top

Finished The Unlatched Door.

Now reading The Underwood Mystery by Charles J. Dutton, from 1921, the - say it with me, now! - the first in a series featuring private detective John Bartley.

May 28, 2012, 4:12pm Top

#156 Liz, those Alcott stories sound great - and so unlike her other, more well-known, stories. I've been struggling to get through Rose in Bloom where her didactivity (didactiveness?) seems more heavy handed than I remember from some of her other stories, but it might just be that I'm really not in the right mood.

And why is your review not on the work page for the book? It's superb. Don't make me go and find Stasia's cat picture...

#159 "To Trygve Lund's great credit, we are spared the too-familiar plot of a bossy woman falling for the man who "masters" her" Hooray!

#161 I love the old-fashioned book covers you post. And mescaline? Could this open the door to another reading project?

My copy of The Trail of the Serpent has arrived! I'm already intrigued by the opening line:

"I don't suppose it rained harder in the good town of Slopperton-on-the Sloshy than it rained anywhere else."

Slopperton-on-the-Sloshy?!? To think that if you hadn't mentioned this book to me I might otherwise have passed it by and never known the joy of reading that opening sentence....

May 29, 2012, 7:20am Top

Hi, Heather!

Yes, it is a completely different side of Alcott. We know she struggled to live up to the standards her father imposed upon her, and felt guilty when she couldn't; it's hard not to see these stories as her exorcising a few demons.

And thank you very much! I'm in the middle of a work crisis as the moment and not getting as much time for anything here as I'd like, but I hope to catch up over the weekend.

Well - I'm reading before the criminalisation of drugs, so you do get a few startling moments. There's a casual cocaine user in At One-Thirty, for instance. Still, I can't say I was expecting the detective and his sidekick to join in the consumption of "buttons" just to be polite!

I have a TIOLI challenge in mind for next month that will fit The Trail Of The Serpent - shared read??

May 29, 2012, 4:16pm Top

Grrr re the work crisis :-( Hope it works out ok.

"I have a TIOLI challenge in mind for next month that will fit The Trail Of The Serpent - shared read??" Yes!

May 29, 2012, 5:00pm Top

Hi, Liz! I'm amazed by your reading choices and your reviews. Thank you!!! I dropped out of lurk to say that the 99¢ collection of L.M. Alcott for the Kindle includes Behind a Mask. I'm excited!

May 30, 2012, 6:32am Top

Thanks, Heather. I have Friday off, anyway - major catching up!

shared read??" Yes!

Now we just need Madeline to cooperate...

Hi, Peggy - great to see you here! Thank you for the kind words. I hope you enjoy Behind A Mask as much as I did!

May 30, 2012, 7:23am Top

#168 She has here.

Edited: Jun 1, 2012, 9:08pm Top

Well! - this has been a thoroughly horrifying week, topped off by being challenge-gazumped. I'm feeling disorganised and a tad panicky, and need to devote today to getting back on track - and writing some reviews.

First of all, we might as well have the May wrap:

I read 15 books in May, most of them in line with "May Murder & Mayhem" - in other words, even more mysteries than usual, plus some assorted mayhem in other contexts:

1. Weston Of The North-West Mounted Police by Trygve Lund (murder, attempted murder, rape, assault, arson)
2. The Curved Blades by Carolyn Wells (murder)
3. The Cat's Eye by R. Austin Freeman (murder, attempted murder, accidental death, assault, theft)
4. Behind A Mask: The Unknown Thrillers Of Louisa May Alcott by Louisa May Alcott (manslaughter, forgery)
5. The Back Bay Murders by Roger Scarlett (murder)
6. Up North: A Tale From Northern Canada by Trygve Lund (kidnapping, attempted murder)
7. The Silent Bullet by Arthur B. Reeve (murder, theft, revolution, sabotage, disfigurement)
8. Ruth Fielding Of Briarwood Hall; or, Solving The Campus Mystery by Alice B. Emerson (blackmail)
9. The Leavenworth Case: A Lawyer's Story by Anna Katharine Green (murder)
10. The Murder Of Dave Brandon by Trygve Lund (murder, manslaughter, theft)
11. Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers (murder)
12. The Unlatched Door by Lee Thayer (murder)
13. The Underwood Mystery by Charles J. Dutton (murder, embezzlement, blackmail)

I am amused to realise that even the second "Ruth Fielding" story fitted this month's theme; and indeed, only my non-fiction reading didn't.

It was a quiet TIOLI month, however, with only 8 books fitting in, and half of those into my own "violent death" category (obviously):

#3: Weston Of The North-West Mounted Police by Trygve Lund
#4: The Cat's Eye by R. Austin Freeman
#4: Ruth Fielding Of Briarwood Hall by Alice B. Emerson
#10: The Back Bay Murders by Roger Scarlett
#10: The Murder Of Dave Brandon by Trygve Lund
#10: The Silent Bullet by Arthur B. Reeve
#10: Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers
#20: Behind A Mask: The Unknown Thrillers Of Louisa May Alcott by Louisa May Alcott

I finished a series in May - YAY!!!! - and started four more. D'oh! I also continued on with seven.

Final breakdown:

Non-fiction: 2
Blog reading (non-fiction): 1
Mysteries: 8
Thrillers: 1
Adventure: 3
Young adult: 1

Series reading: 12

Oldest book: The Leavenworth Case (1878)
Newest book: The Revenge Of Anguished English (2005)

Male : female author ratio: 8 : 7

May 31, 2012, 7:34pm Top

One thing I did not mention is that I completed The Underwood Mystery, the first in Charles J. Dutton's series about private investigator John Bartley.

This is important not in itself, but because it means I am now reading Clermont by Regina Maria Roche, a Minerva Press Gothic novel from 1798, and one of the famous Northanger Abbey "horrid novels", in which---


---I will shortly be tutoring Madeline! - who as a result of reading both Northanger Abbey and The Castle Of Otranto, has expressed an interest in tackling a real Gothic novel. I hope we'll be joined by some of our usual lurkers.

May 31, 2012, 7:43pm Top

And for June, a new picture---the emperor tamarin, which is found in Brazil, Peru and Bolivia, and which thankfully is not considered endangered.

May 31, 2012, 8:23pm Top

The Revenge Of Anguished English - Richard Lederer's fourth and last collection of language bloopers is a giggle in spite some flaws, including too much "cute kid" stuff, too much reliance on "hall of fame" bloopers (which we've seen before) and overly lengthy anecdotes leading to punchlines not always worth the effort. The usual categories are included: student bloopers, excuse notes, medical and legal bloopers, bewildering headlines, peculiar advertisements, strange product labels and (one of Lederer's personal favourites) church bulletin bloopers. Warming my grammarian heart, this volume also has a focus upon the perils of the misplaced modifier.

Here are a few extracts:

- Child (while her mother was wrestling with a stubborn bottle of catsup): "Mommy can't come to the phone, she's hitting the bottle."

- Australopithecus was first found by leaking in the Olduvai Gorge.

- Please can Jill not have Jim Today? She had Jim last week and is still sore.

- Last hymn in the order of service: "Jesus, Remember Me" (if time permits).

Q: "And, Doctor, as a result of your examination of the plaintiff in this case, was the young lady pregnant?"
A: "The young lady was pregnant, but not as a result of my examination."

On a can of drain cleaner: If you do not understand, or cannot read, all directions, cautions, and warnings, do not use this product.

Advertisement: My daughter developed allergies to guinea pigs. Must go.

- By order of the selectmen, cows grazing by the side of the road or riding bicycles is forbidden.

- "He was an engaging small dog," said an observer with a curly tail and a friendly manner.

Edited: Jun 1, 2012, 9:10pm Top

Ruth Fielding At Briarwood Hall; or, Solving The Campus Mystery - This second book in the Ruth Fielding series picks up the story with Ruth and her friend, Helen Cameron, about to leave for Briarwood Hall boarding-school. They travel in company with Helen's twin brother, Tom, who is likewise beginning at a military academy nor far away from Briarwood; a situation that holds the tantalising promise of socialisation between the two schools. The journey is by train, steamboat and carriage. While crossing Lake Osago, and while Tom is off investigating the mysteries of steam engines, the girls witness an odd scene. A band of itinerant musicians is plying its trade on the boat and one of them, a harpist, approaches one of the passengers in a way that obviously frightens her. Later, as the travellers are disembarking, Ruth and Helen catch side of the oddly assorted pair again, hurriedly conversing in an obscure corner of the wharf. When the girls discover that the woman is Miss Picolet, their French mistress, their surprise causes them to describe what they witnessed, before Ruth at least stops to consider whether they should have done so.

The moment that Ruth and Helen arrive at Briarwood, they fall into the clutches of Mary Cox, the leader of a clique that heads one of two opposed social clubs, the "Up-and-Doing Club", or Upedes. The club was created specifically to challenge the "Forward Club", or FCs, which has the approval and even the participation of the teachers, and is thus - at least in the opinion of the Upedes - both dull and grovelling. Helen is soon swept up in the excitement of club pledging and being part of the popular crowd, but a wary Ruth hangs back, unwilling to commit herself without greater knowledge of what she might be getting into. Mary Cox views Ruth's independence of mind as a challenge to her authority, and sets about driving a wedge between her and Helen. Furthermore, it is soon evident that the Upedes regard Miss Picolet as an enemy, due to her stern eye for rule infractions, and that the story told of her shipboard encounter may have placed a weapon in Mary Cox's hands - particularly after some itinerant musicians are driven away from Briarwood. Meanwhile, both Ruth and Helen find themselves the target of a midnight hazing ritual involving the supposedly haunted fountain in the middle of the school courtyard, the marble statue holding a lyre that tradition holds is heard before tragedy strikes at Briarwood. Resenting her treatment by the Upedes, Ruth is determined to show no fear - but her resolution is more than shaken when, as she stands alone in the shadows of the fountain, she hears the sound of a lyre...

Although it is subtitled "Solving The Campus Mystery", the mystery is only a minor component of this story - and doesn't take that much solving, either; although it does require both courage and moral strength on Ruth's part. She also gets to display her physical courage during the book's most memorable episode, when a skating party involving (after some plotting on both sides) the boys of Seven Oaks Military Academy and the girls of Briarwood Hall almost ends in disaster. However, the focus of this short book is really Ruth's often painful adjustment to school life, and to the altered nature of her friendship with Helen, as their different pursuits and attitudes bring about a temporary estrangement between the two. The adolescence angst sketched here is certainly familiar, as Ruth wrestles with the loneliness of unpopularity and gives in to the temptation to break the rules simply in order to fit in. Of course, by the conclusion of the tale an equilibrium has been reached: exams have been passed, friendships forged and wounds healed, as Ruth and Helen look forward to their next adventure...

The goblet was quickly filled, and Ruth held it to her lips. She might be watched, and she was determined to obey the mandate of the masked leader of the hazing party. She would not give them the right to say she was panic-striken. And then, with an unexpectedness that held her for the moment spellbound, she heard a hasty hand sweep the taut strings of a harp!... There was no movement, of course, in the marble. There was no further sound about the fountain. But the echo of that crash of music vibrated across the campus and died away hollowly between the buildings...

May 31, 2012, 11:34pm Top

If that Emperor Tamarin isn't the reincarnation of Gene Shalit then I'll be a monkey's uncle.

May 31, 2012, 11:45pm Top

Hee, hee!!

Apparently the name is a reference to the Kaiser. And as you might imagine, I had a great deal of difficulty choosing just one picture from amongst a forest of spectacular 'taches.

Edited: Jun 1, 2012, 1:52am Top

The Leavenworth Case: A Lawyer's Story - In the absence of both his senior partners, Everett Raymond is summoned as legal counsel to the home of the wealthy Horatio Leavenworth, who has been found murdered, shot through the head, in his own library. There is no sign of attempted robbery, and the house was locked up as usual overnight. The other members of the household, apart from the servants, are Leavenworth's two orphaned nieces, Mary and Eleanore, the former of whom is his heiress, and John Trueman Harwell, his secretary. Arriving at the Fifth Avenue mansion, Raymond finds the inquest under way, and the murder investigation in the hands of Ebenezer Gryce of the New York police. An examination of the body and scene determines that the murderer must have entered the library from Leavenworth's bedroom, behind it down a short corridor, and that the weapon was the victim's own pistol, taken from his chest-of-drawers. When the coroner summons Mary and Eleanore, Raymond and Gryce go upstairs to fetch them - and overhear a violent quarrel between the two, with one accusing the other of wishing Leavenworth dead... As the inquest continues, a case begins to build against Eleanore Leavenworth: she had recently asked Harwell about the handling of a pistol; a handkerchief of hers is found stained from having been used to clean the weapon; circumstances suggest she took a certain paper from her uncle's desk after his death; and she is discovered to be concealing the missing key to the library. But in spite of everything, Raymond believes in Eleanore's innocence - not least because he has fallen in love with her - and swears that he will not rest until the real guilty party is found...

If not in fact "the first American detective novel", as is often asserted, Anna Katharine Green's The Leavenworth Case is the first to display many of the features that we associate with the modern mystery novel, while at the same time retaining a number of qualities that link it to its sensation-novel roots. It is very evident that Green was heavily influenced in the creation of this story by both The Dead Letter (the real "first American detective novel") and The Figure Eight, even though Metta Fuller Victor's novels were nowhere near the success that The Leavenworth Case turned out to be. As was also the case in Victor's works, the story is narrated by a young man, a rising professional, who assumes the role of amateur detective in order to clear the name of a woman. An important aspect of The Leavenworth Case is the setting of the story amongst the wealthy and leisured, a crucial distinction between "crime" and "detective" fiction, and in time a particular signifier of the subgenre known as the "cosy mystery". At this seminal point, however, the overall tone of this novel, courtesy of its narrator, is one of disbelief that such a thing could have happened amongst "nice" (read: rich) people like the Leavenworths; while the emergence of two beautiful, gently-bred young women as the prime suspects is almost a greater shock than anyone can bear.

Also at this early stage in the evolution of American detective fiction, the social gap between the professional detective and his amateur sidekick is very evident. Significantly, Ebenezer Gryce, a full-time police detective with as much authority as his profession can grant him, recruits the assistance of Everett Raymond specifically because Raymond is a gentleman and can therefore go places that the working-class Gryce cannot, and because people trust him as they do not trust the police officer: he "speaks the same language" as the Leavenworths and their ilk. Raymond, like his genre predecessors, initially recoils in distaste from the idea of "spying", and in particular spying on women. However, he is forced to overcome, or rise above, his revulsion when official suspicion fastens onto Eleanore Leavenworth, with whom Raymond has fallen in love at first sight. The willingness of Ebenezer Gryce to believe the worst of everyone marks him clearly as "no gentleman"; but at the same time, useful as Raymond frequently is to the detective, the young lawyer's personal investigative efforts are repeatedly hampered by his tendency to make assumptions based upon notions of honour and breeding, most of which (as the cynics amongst us might be inclined to note) are disproved by the end of the book. This positioning of shocking events amongst the upper classes, in a story predicated upon violations of the prevailing social code, is particularly indicative of the detective novel's evolution out of the sensation novel, which similarly gained its effects by daring to expose the hypocrisy of the caste-based society.

Also like the sensation novel, The Leavenworth Case goes off on any number of tangents in the telling of its tale, and takes its time about resolving them. The Fifth Avenue mansion of Horatio Leavenworth and his nieces is the realm of secrets and lies, which are progressively revealed over the course of the story. From the earliest point in the investigation - indeed, from the time of Mary Leavenworth's testimony at the inquest - evidence begins to mount against Eleanore, whose behaviour, if she is innocent, is deeply suspicious, and who frequently seems to display signs of conscious guilt. Yet what could her motive be? It is Mary, not Eleanore, who receives the bulk of Horatio Leavenworth's estate, including the house - from which, after another bitter confrontation, Mary orders her cousin. Everett Raymond clings stubbornly, almost desperately, to his faith in Eleanore's innocence, although even he is forced to admit that much of her behaviour is inexplicable unless she is guilty - or is shielding the guilty party. This last notion takes on a particularly ominous dimension when it seems that one of Leavenworth's nieces has contracted a secret marriage, and that the man in question visited the house under an assumed name on the night of the murder. The presence at the scene of the crime of an outsider is an alternative explanation for the crime that Raymond, for one, leaps at; but what will his pursuit of this line of investigation mean to Eleanore?

It is easy enough to find flaws in The Leavenworth Case. Like many novels of this vintage and genre, it is highly melodramatic, and some of the characters' actions and motivations are just too bizarre for credibility. (There's also the fact that, given that Horatio Leavenworth has made Mary rather than Eleanore his heiress for no better reason than his preference for her looks, some readers may feel he deserved a bullet through the head.) This is, nevertheless, a hugely enjoyable novel, as well as, in historical terms, an extremely significant one. The Leavenworth Case was both a critical and a financial success for Anna Katharine Green. Furthermore, it was adapted into a successful stage-play, and even used as a teaching aide at various law-schools, as an object lesson in the dangers of circumstantial evidence. From here, Green went on to create what we today consider the mainstay of the mystery genre, the detective series: Ebenezer Gryce would appear in eleven more works, the first fictional detective to be the focus of a related set of novels and, with his various idiosyncracies, including never looking anyone in the face, setting the pattern for innumerable others to follow. Gryce was not, however, Green's only significant contribution in this respect: she would also write series featuring Amelia Butterworth, fiction's first spinster-detective, and Violet Strange, a debutante with a secret life as a sleuth. Though not the first either in the world or just in America to write a detective novel, Anna Katharine Green's importance in the development of the genre cannot be overestimated.

As I walked down the avenue that night, feeling like an adventurous traveller that in a moment of desperation has set his foot upon a plank stretching in narrow perspective over a chasm of immeasurable depth, this problem evolved itself from the shadows before me: How, with no other clue than the persuasion that Eleanore Leavenworth was engaged in shielding another at the expense of her own good name, I was to combat the prejudices of Mr Gryce, find out the real assassin of Mr Leavenworth, and free an innocent woman from the suspicion that had, not without some show of reason, fallen upon her?

Jun 1, 2012, 6:55am Top

I read The Leavenworth Case a few years ago after stumbling across it on Project Gutenberg. I've forgotten most of the details, but I remember that I really enjoyed it.

Jun 1, 2012, 8:46am Top

The emperor tamarin is stache-tastic!

Jun 1, 2012, 12:03pm Top

Love the emperor tamarin (sadly, his stache puts my poodle's to shame, and we thought she had a very fine one indeed!), and also love reading your reviews. I have The Leavenworth Case in my TBR thanks to Heather's recent review. Those covers on the Ruth Fielding books are so great, aren't they?

Jun 1, 2012, 4:53pm Top

#170 Sorry about your bad week (and being challenge-gazumped too). Hope you can recuperate this weekend.

#171 I've starred the thread already :-)

#172 He does look like a very wise monkey.

#177 Great review of The Leavenworth Case Liz.

Interesting point about the relative social status of Gryce and Raymond (which I'd sort of picked up on whilst reading) and the detective novel's evolution from the sensation novel (which I hadn't).

"There's also the fact that, given that Horatio Leavenworth has made Mary rather than Eleanore his heiress for no better reason than his preference for her looks, some readers may feel he deserved a bullet through the head." :-D

It was a fun read!

Edited: Jun 1, 2012, 7:35pm Top

Hi, all! Thanks for stopping by!

Carrie, I found The Leavenworth Case very enjoyable too - it helps that I don't mind melodrama, of course!

Hi, Julia! I had a great range of 'taches to choose from - proud-tache, smug-tache, aggressive-tache - I finally went with pensive-tache.

Hi, Mamie - love the sound of your poodles! I've always had a soft spot for schnauzers, myself. I hope you enjoy The Leavenworth Case. I look forward to comparing notes with you. There's actually an alternative line of Ruth Fielding covers that make her look like a jaded flapper who's been partying all night - I much prefer these ones!

Heather, it's fascinating to me that in supposedly classless America, this aspect of things is so important - the barriers between the upper classes and the workers seem far more strict in American novels of this time than in their British counterparts, and the suspicion and hostility expressed towards the police is very overt.

Jun 1, 2012, 7:38pm Top

The Clermont tutored read is now up and running, here. Lurkers more than welcome!

Edited: Jun 9, 2012, 12:02am Top

The Murder Of Dave Brandon - Dave Brandon, foreman at a lumber-camp, has some problems. One is the sudden departure of Charley Crow, one of the Indian teamsters; although his habitual laziness makes him no great loss. A more serious issue is the challenge to Dave's authority offered by the behaviour of the surly, violent Ben Turner. The situation ends, inevitably, in a fist-fight. The victorious Dave then fires Turner and orders him from the camp. With order restored, Dave sets out for town to collect the monthly payroll. He does not return, but one of his horses, in a frenzy of panic, later gallops into camp. A search is made, and Dave's body found. He has been shot through the head, and the payroll is gone... The investigation of the murder is placed in the hands of Constable Connor of the Royal North-West Mounted Police. He, like the rest of the lumber-camp workers, assumes Ben Turner to be the guilty party; but to everyone's surprise, Turner has an alibi. Charley Crow is then suggested as an alternative suspect, and although no-one really believes him guilty, it is agreed that his quitting shortly before pay-day is suspicious. Connor sets out to track him down in case he has any knowledge of the situation. It is a task he looks forward to: the pursuit of Charley will require a lengthy time in wilderness, roughing it by dog-sleigh. Connor sets out in high spirits - but is destined never to return...

The third in Trygve Lund's series of novels about the Royal North-West Mounted Police is quite different in tone and approach from its predecessors. Most significantly, much of the time its story is told from the perspective of the civilians involved in it, rather than from that of the Mounties. It opens with a brief but vivid sketch of lumber-camp life, making clear the necessity for order to be maintained by force, and deals sympathetically with the shock and grief of the camp-workers after the discovery of Dave Brandon's body. The clearing of Ben Turner is a surprise to the reader as well as to the other characters, and we incline to agree that the search for Charley Crow is something of a long-shot. The tone of this section of the novel is quite light, as Connor prepares gleefully for his mission, which is to take him all the way from the town of Prince Albert to the Lac la Ronge district in the north, which Charley has frequented in the past - earning a reputation for thievery in the process. The disappearance of Connor, and the subsequent discovery of his gruesome fate, therefore comes as a genuine shock.

From this point, the novel makes no bones about Charley Crow's guilt, backtracking to fill the reader in on his various past failed attempts to achieve a life of leisure through crime, and his plan to murder Dave Brandon for the payroll. It describes in detail his successful evasion of the initial investigators, and his retreat to an isolated shack near Lac la Ronge - and his ambush murder of Constable Connor. From this point Charley is on the run in all seriousness. He finds a reluctant collaborator in the shape of Nathan Otter, an Indian trapper. Some time before, Nathan killed another trapper, a white man, in self-defence; but fearing that his word would not be believed, he disposed of the body and said nothing. All this was observed by Charley Crow, who compels Nathan's cooperation by threatening, if caught, to take Nathan down with him. With his assistance, Charley finds a refuge in a distant, unpopulated canyon, in a shack long deserted by some unsuccessful prospectors, and considers himself safe from the pursuit of the forces of justice. He is, needless to say, mistaken...

The murder of Connor brings on the scene the now Inspector Richard Weston, who is suffering from grass-widowerhood - snow-widowerhood? - after the departure of his wife, Betty, and their young son for California; the boy has a bronchial complaint for which a mild winter has been prescribed. Connor's death is both a personal and a professional affront to the men of the Royal North-West Mounted Police, and there will be no rest for Weston until he brings in Charley Crow. From here the novel treads a more familiar path (or at least, follows a more familiar dog-trail), as Weston is tested to the utmost by the Canadian wilderness, and must exercise every bit of his ingenuity in first tracking down and then capturing the wanted man.

The identity of the guilty party - or parties, given Nathan Otter's involvement - brings an uncomfortable note into this story, which shows a tendency to demonise the native Canadians that was largely absent from the earlier novels. There are, granted, signs that Lund himself did not subscribe to this negative stereotyping (when Charley is first suggested as a suspect, the text deadpans: "I suspicioned all along that it wasn't the act o' any white man," he asserted, unblushingly, though he had suspected nothing of the sort.), but throughout the story is peppered with implications: Indians are lazy, are sneaky, are greedy, are thieves, are stupid... Balancing this, as always, we have Lund's detailed understanding of life on the trail, and what it takes to survive the extremities of the Canadian north; and any number of memorable descriptions of the beauties and dangers of the "Great Alone".

Charley chuckled to himself several times for the rest of the day when he thought of the brilliant scheme he had concocted for the confusion of the police... But just as he had got comfortably settled on his bunk his dogs began to bark furiously. He jumped up and grabbed his rifle. What was the matter now, he wondered. Had that fool Nathan returned? He hurried over to the door and flung it open... Beside a spruce on the fringe of the forest, squarely facing Charley, stool a tall white man. As soon as Charley appeared the stranger began to speak in Cree: "Charley Crow, you are under arrest..."

Jun 2, 2012, 3:38pm Top

Yay! The Leavenworth Case and Ruth Fielding at Briarwood Hall are both safely on my Kindle. Heaven knows when I'll read them, but now I can! I will absolutely love to read Our Mutual Friend with you in July, Liz, unless you want to put it off longer. That means that I should pop back into *D&S*, which I'll do. It's a matter of pressing through the Walter Gay bit and getting to Edith. Then I won't want to put it down.

Jun 2, 2012, 5:56pm Top

It's a matter of pressing through the Walter Gay bit and getting to Edith.

You have my entire understanding!

We'll pencil in July, but there's no rush for either one of us. Do you want to think about how we might do it? - that is, simply a shared read where we get together at the end and compare notes over Bella and John, or set up a thread for the journey? I think there'd be some interest, but since we have both read it before, it might not be the best forum for newbies.

Anyway, we can think about that. Otherwise, it's a date!

Jun 3, 2012, 6:54pm Top

I have finished Clermont, which fitted into TIOLI #14. I'll refrain from comments until after Madeline's tutored read.

And now, sigh, I've embarked upon an incompletely available series: the Luther Bastion series of Gavin Holt (aka Charles Rodda). The first two books in this series, Six Minutes Past Twelve and The White-Faced Man, are rare and expensive, so I'm starting with the third - Green Talons, from (1930).

Jun 4, 2012, 9:49am Top

#182 I like Airedale terriers myself (although poodles are also a favourite and I will settle happily for anything that wags its tail at me)

#187 Distressingly I can't find copies of the fourth and fifth books in the Ebenezer Gryce series but that's not as bad as not being able to find the first book of a series...

Edited: Jun 4, 2012, 4:30pm Top

Aww... I had a friend who always had Airedales. :)

Distressingly I can't find copies of the fourth and fifth books in the Ebenezer Gryce series

I'll consider myself warned.

I suppose it's because first books get produced in smaller numbers, but it's fascinating (and infuriating) how often that's the one you can't get - and, more puzzlingly, the one which is never reprinted.

Jun 6, 2012, 4:27pm Top

Finished Green Talons - a thriller rather than a mystery, but with a villain with a secret identity and lots of suspects - review to come.

Now reading The Trail Of The Serpent, Mary Elizabeth Braddon's first novel, for TIOLI #20 - and a shared read with Heather - yay!

Edited: Jun 8, 2012, 6:22pm Top

Thank you, Ms Braddon.

As people would know, I've been expending a lot of energy, and even more words, on the puzzle of the "first" detective novel, including pinning down the characteristics of a work that make it a detective novel in the first place.

Early in her first novel, The Trail Of The Serpent, Mary Elizabeth Braddon puts her finger on the crux of the issue (emphasis mine):

A murder was always a great thing for Slopperton. When John Boggins, weaver, beat out the brains of Sarah his wife, first with the heel of the clog and ultimately with a poker, Slopperton had a great deal to say about it---although of course, the slaughter of one "hand" by another was no great thing out of the factories. But this murder at the Black Mill was something out of the common. Uncommonly cruel, cowardly, and unmanly, and moreover occurring in a respectable rank of life.

As this novel goes on, I'm finding myself increasingly amused by the divided authorial voice. That used when the story deals with the great people of the world takes on the elaborate and melodramatic tones with which readers of this period's literature would be familiar; but it is the deadpan, almost shrugging way in which ghastly events are reported in and around the environs of Slopperton-on-the-Slushy that arrests the attention.

As for the question of whether this is indeed "the first detective novel"--- It on depends whether the story works out as I suspect it will, but if it does, we may have a winner...

Edited: Jun 15, 2012, 3:53am Top

Strong Poison - Mystery novelist Harriet Vane stands trial for the arsenic murder of her lover, Philip Boyes, with whom she lived until the two of them separated following a violent quarrel. Boyes' final illness and death followed dinner with his cousin, Norman Urquhart, and coffee at Miss Vane's flat; it was subsequently demonstrated that at dinner, Boyes ate nothing not also consumed by a second party. It is evident to those in court that the judge's summation is hostile towards the prisoner, and when the jury retires a quick verdict of guilty, and an equally rapid condemnation to death, is expected; but time ticks by, and no verdict is forthcoming... At length the foreman reports that no verdict can be agreed upon, and adds his emphatic belief that there will never be agreement. The jury is consequently discharged, and the defendant remanded in custody to be tried again at the next assizes, in one month's time. It is revealed that the main obstacle to a guilty verdict was the tenacity of one juror, Miss Katherine Alexandra Climpson, who in spite of the evidence did not believe in Miss Vane's guilt, and refused to be bullied into saying she did; two others jurors were eventually brought to agree with her. The non-verdict is an overwhelming relief to Lord Peter Wimsey, who was been more than an interested spectactor throughout the trial: not only does he believe in Miss Vane's innocence, he has also fallen in love with her - and now he has one month in which to save her life...

Looking back across this series, and even to events beyond it, it is clear how very carefully Dorothy Sayers prepared for the meeting of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, the subtle thread reaching all the way back to Peter's jilting by Barbara; an experience which, ironically enough, leads him to amateur detection and ultimately to Harriet. The incompatibility of the Duke and Duchess of Denver; the failed first engagement of Lady Mary Wimsey, contracted as a bid for freedom; the abusive yet co-dependent marriage of the Fentimens; the unspoken love of Charles Parker; and even Peter's own gentle but firm rejection of the proffered affections of Marjorie Phelps form a backdrop for this tentative coming together of two wounded people. Sayers takes an oblique approach to Peter's emotional journey, denying the reader the opportunity of watching him fall in love and instead presenting the situation as a fait accompli, indicating the depth of his feeling chiefly through the change in him recognised by those closest to him - the Dowager, Bunter, Parker and poor Marjorie - and, I think we might fairly say, the reader. Harriet's relationship with Boyes and her arrest and trial comprise a scandal of the first order, and irresistable fodder for gossip, and the reader can only flinch and wince in sympathy as Peter is forced to suffer silently through the trial-by-fire of a hideo-comic Christmas gathering at Duke's Denver, at which Harriet - "That frightful poisoning woman," as one of the guests likes to call her - is discussed, dissected and condemned.

Granted, by the grace of Miss Climpson and her hung jury, one slender month in which to uncover the truth of Philip Boyes' death, and to identify the guilty party if it is murder and not suicide, Peter finds himself having to contend with an unexpected obstacle in the form of his own emotions. This is not, of course, the first time that Peter has had to apply his detective skills to proving the innocence of someone close to his heart; but very different is his state of mind here from when he was defending his brother and sister in Clouds of Witness. It is painfully evident to Peter that Harriet's own defence team believes her guilty of murder, and that he has nothing to hope for in that quarter. Sir Impey Biggs' startled relief at the non-verdict of the first trial gives him away in spite of his professional discretion, while the solicitor Crofts hardly bothers to conceal his scorn for Peter's credulity. The cynical Crofts' only contribution is to advise Peter not to show his hand to the police; but since the investigation into Philip Boyes' death was conducted by none other than Detective-Inspector Parker, Peter knows that he may do so safely. The last man to look the other way while an innocent person suffers for his mistake - and, once he grasps Peter's situation, only too eager to see Harriet acquitted - Parker agrees to follow up a series of vague clues suggesting that Boyes may have committed suicide.

Alternatively, if Boyes was murdered, the only viable suspect is his cousin, Norman Urquhart, whose ability to demonstrate that Boyes could not possibly have consumed the fatal arsenic while in his company is, as Peter notes, so perfect as to be deeply suspicious. Opportunity, in the crude form of time spent together, Urquhart certainly had, but neither motive nor means is evident; and in order to pursue these lines of investigation, Peter is forced to remain largely passive himself while relying upon the intelligence, courage and skill of two unlikely undercover agents...

It is not of the least of Strong Poison's pleasures that it acts as a showcase for the character and talents of the inimitable Miss Climpson, by now head of a "secretarial agency" that gathers together women of great and varied abilities. One of these is Miss Murchison, who obtains a position in Urquhart's law office in order to search out his secrets, and allays any possible suspicions on the part of her employers by deliberately fulfilling every one of their negative expectations of women in the workplace. As for Miss Climpson herself, she is sent to hunt for the will of an elderly and incapacitated woman: a task that requires her to put the knowledge gained while exposing various fraudulant psychics to good use (and to salve her uneasy conscience by refusing to stage a fake seance on a Sunday). Between them, Miss Climpson and Miss Murchison bring to Peter the proof that Norman Urquhart did indeed have both the motive and the means to murder Philip Boyes - leaving Peter himself to tackle the final, and greatest, hurdle: the question of how Urquhart could possibly have poisoned Boyes without also poisoning his household and himself...

The strength of Dorothy Sayers' novels is that they are nearly always "about" something greater than the mystery at their centre, and this is certainly true of Strong Poison, which also benefits from its relative freedom from the indications of its author's various prejudices that taint some of the earlier series entries. There are, granted, slaps in passing at anyone whose interests or social views do not happen to coincide with those of Lord Peter Wimsey (and Dorothy Sayers), as well as at the female sex - the Cattery? really? - but overall you get the feeling that Sayers' heart wasn't really in it - probably because it was so clearly somewhere else. To what extent we should look upon Harriet Vane as Sayers' alter-ego (or even as her "Mary Sue"), if at all, is not yet evident. Such critical accusations were probably inevitable from the moment Sayers decided to make the love of Peter's life a writer of mysteries - although, that said, what other profession would so well explain someone researching the possession and properties of arsenic? - but to read anything so simplistic into these novels seems like asking for trouble.

The scenes between Peter and Harriet, brief as they necessarily are, are charged with suppressed emotion, and are clearly indicative of a meeting of the mind and spirit. What stands out most vividly, however, is Peter's fair-mindedness and generosity. Although understandably bothered by the relationship between Harriet and Boyes, he classes it with his own brief past affairs and considers it no barrier to their own future happiness. It is Harriet, nursing the scars of her experiences, who with sad cynicism envisages an alternative future of jealousy, mistrust and wretchedness. When Strong Poison closes, the matter is left unresolved. However, as she does throughout her earlier novels, Sayers provides an indirect commentary upon this pivotal relationship by placing it in the context of several others, each in its own way just as unlikely. Here she bestows her belated authorial blessing upon the nuptials of Freddie Arbuthnot and Rachel Levy, daughter of the victim of Whose Body?, even though it means a synagogue wedding and the raising of any children in the Jewish faith; clear evidence, if we needed any more, that this novel finds Sayers in an unwontedly mellow mood. Meanwhile, the hesitant courtship of Charles Parker and Lady Mary finally resolves into a definite engagement, much to the horror of the Duke and Duchess, and mostly thanks to Peter's intervention: an action that has, perhaps, less to do with his desire to secure the happiness of his sister and his best friend than it does with paving the way for the announcement his own, even more shocking plans - his determination to marry a woman who has stood trial for murdering the man with whom she lived unmarried - "If she'll have me..."

"And I say," said Wimsey, "that it would be better for her to be hanged outright than to live and have everyone think her a murderess who got off by a fluke."
"Indeed?" said Mr Crofts. "I fear that is not an attitude that the defence can very well adopt. May I ask if it is adopted by Miss Vane herself?"
"I shouldn't be surprised if it was," said Wimsey. "But she's innocent, and I'll damn well make you believe it before I'm done."

Jun 8, 2012, 11:52pm Top

Liz - I LOVE your reviews and your thread! I really need to read some Dorothy Sayers - recommendations?

Jun 9, 2012, 12:07am Top

Hi, Mamie - thank you!! My only recommendation would be to begin at the beginning, with Whose Body?: the novels all build upon each other, and Peter really does grow and change as a character. You could skip the short stories if you felt inclined - Lord Peter Views The Body - but then you'd miss being introduced to Peter's rather adorable young nephew. :)

Jun 9, 2012, 8:14am Top

I read the Wimsey novels as a teen, but not in any particular order. I just read them as I was able to get hold of them. I was used to the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew series where order didn't matter. After I finish reading Christie's works in order (if I ever finish!), my next project is to go back and read Sayers' mysteries in order. I'm sure I'll pick up on a lot of things I was too naive to spot the first time through.

BTW, I love the vintage cover you included with your review!

Jun 9, 2012, 5:33pm Top

After I finish reading Christie's works in order (if I ever finish!), my next project is to go back and read Sayers' mysteries in order.

Now you sound like me. :)

I'm a great fan of "in order" generally, as you would know, not least because it helps to take care of that bewildering, what-to-read-next feeling. But in addition I think you generally get the experience of feeling a writer develop, and certainly in some series, including the Wimsey series, the interconnectedness adds depth to each individual novel.

The 20s and 30s were a great time for book covers, and I'll always hunt an early one down if I can. You still get the occasional great design today, but it seems to be becoming something of a lost art. (Then there's "the headless woman", sigh.)

Jun 11, 2012, 7:59am Top

I've only read one Dorothy Sayers, and it was Whose Body?. Loved it!

Jun 11, 2012, 5:02pm Top

#191 When I read that passage I thought of you :-)

And once again, you've picked up things that I hadn't been aware of until you mentioned them (and then I suddenly think, oh yes!) - the divided authorial voice this time. I thought at times that the authorial voice felt very Dickensian but now I need to think about which authorial voice it was...

#192 Huurah for Miss Climpson. She's still my favourite character.

"tentative coming together of two wounded people." Very well put. I've recently finished a memoir/autobiography written by a modern crime writer, P. D. James, which gave some background about Dorothy Sayers' life and love affairs. I was particularly struck by the unhappiness Sayers had experienced in her own lover affairs and how, in some ways, that seems to be mirrored in Harriet's experiences and the suggestion that 'in Lord Peter Wimsey she {Sayers} created a fantasy figure with whom she could safely fall in love'. I'm sure that's not the final word on the creation of Lord Peter but it's given me something to muse over as I read the later books. And as you said, "to read anything so simplistic into these novels seems like asking for trouble." :-)

#195 "After I finish reading Christie's works in order (if I ever finish!)" Reading Christie's works in order has been a planned project of mine for about a year now so for myself I would have to say 'if I ever start'!

Edited: Jun 11, 2012, 9:13pm Top

Hi, Cindy! You should certainly try the others, I think you'd enjoy those too.

I got burned from reading Christie out of order (it was obviously a long time ago!) - one of her novels has a character who was a suspect in an earlier novel. Kind of spoiled the first book, when I got to it, since that person obviously didn't do it. :)

Heather, I'm content to classify The Trail Of The Serpent as a "detective novel" - what do you think? I actually enjoyed Braddon's authorial voice in this novel more than Dickens', because she conveys her anger over the misery of the poor without any sentimentalising.

It's hard to think that Sayers didn't foresee how Harriet would be perceived. Possibly she intended the character as an opportunity for self-analysis, rather than just as a stand-in. (Haven't read any of the later novels, as you know, so my opinion on this will no doubt evolve.)

I could slap her for "the Cattery", though. Miss Climpson deserves better. How about the Brains Trust?

Edited: Jun 11, 2012, 7:31pm Top

And yes, I have finished The Trail Of The Serpent...which is really rather marvellous. In fact, I can think of so much to say about it, I've decided I have to blog it - although heaven knows when I'll get around to it...

Now reading The Corn King And The Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison. A Virago! Yay! It's been a while...

Jun 12, 2012, 5:16pm Top

#199 "I'm content to classify The Trail Of The Serpent as a "detective novel" - what do you think?" Yes, I think I am too, although the introduction to my copy of The Notting Hill Mystery (written by Mike Ashley) says The Trail of the Serpent is a work which involves a crime and includes some detection, but is in no way a detective novel. No further explanation as to why this book is considered in no way a detective novel which has left me a bit confused and rather annoyed with the writer of the introduction. He does go on to say that The Notting Hill Mystery is different from earlier works because it includes no sensational chases, no battles with criminals and no undercover work but I'm not convinced those elements need to be absent from a novel to make it a detective novel. (I still haven't read The Notting Hill Mystery, I just wanted to see if the introduction mentioned *Trail*.)

Spoilers! Spoilers! I wonder if Ashley doesn't consider *Trail* a detective novel because the reader and the detective know who 'did it' quite early on? But Unnatural Death has a similar idea (I'm sure there have been others) and that's a detective novel. It still makes no sense to me.

"I actually enjoyed Braddon's authorial voice in this novel more than Dickens', because she conveys her anger over the misery of the poor without any sentimentalising." Yes! And there were no sappy/angelic female characters :-)

I hadn't read anything by Braddon before so it was probably a bit unfair to have expectations of the book but I had expected it to feel a lot more like a first novel: more like Basil perhaps - you can see potential in the author but not they're quite there yet. But The Trail of the Serpent was really good. I'd love to see what the original Three Times Dead was like.

The Brains Trust sounds good :-)

Edited: Jun 12, 2012, 9:33pm Top

I haven't read The Notting Hill Mystery yet either, but to me that sounds like he's being defensive. As I mentioned earlier, as soon as that book was loudly announced as "the first" there were various suggestions of earlier works that qualified, including The Trail Of The Serpent - which may not be a whodunnit, but is the first *novel* I know of to have a detective successfully pursue a criminal from crime to capture - in a novel which also goes from crime to capture. In contrast, Bleak House is hardly "about" Inspector Bucket, and in The Moonstone Inspector Cuff doesn't solve the crime.

Your point about novels where the criminal is obvious but you can't prove it is a good one. I'm seeing a kind of hourglass-shaped evolution to the detective novel, emerging out of the convoluted sensation novel and narrowing down to be just about the mystery, and then expanding again in the hands of writers like Sayers to be more than just the mystery. I'm not reading modern detective fiction at the moment, as you know, but it seems to me I hear an awful lot of people saying that they stick with a mystery series not for the mysteries, but for the characters and surrounding stories.

By the way, The Trail Of The Serpent was not Braddon's first novel - that was a work called The Octoroon; or, The Lily Of Louisiana, which was published in 1859 (I think; it's hard with serialisation). It was revived as a "limited collector's edition" some years back and those are hen's teeth, but oddly a reprint from the 1890s is reasonably easy to get hold of.

Yes, I have been looking into it. :)

Jun 12, 2012, 9:33pm Top


My Wishlist has officially cracked 20,000.

Curse you, Ouida!!

Jun 14, 2012, 7:50pm Top

The Unlatched Door - Richard Van Loo Schuyler is young, handsome, rich - and bored. Although a qualified lawyer, Richard has never worked, and leads a rather aimless existence that is beginning to pall upon him. Walking in the park one day, Richard is attracted to a lovely young woman who he is disconcerted to recognise subsequently as the maidservant from the house next door. After attending a dinner with a number of his equally aimless friends, Richard makes his uncertain, drunken way home, stumbling from his taxi into torrential rain and then through an unexpectedly open front door. In the hall, he stops without bothering with the lights to remove his sodden shoes - only to put his hand upon something in the darkness that sends cold chills down his spine. Striking a match, Richard discovers to his horror that a dead woman lies at his feet in a pool of blood. He also realises that he is in the wrong house... Panicking, Richard picks up his shoes ands flees without raising the alarm, and finds that he is only one house away from his own. The next morning, everything seems like a bad dream. Determined to behave as if nothing is wrong, Richard sets out to spend the weekend at a friend's house on Long Island, but is stopped outside the house next door by the maid - the girl from the park - who begs distractedly for his help, explaining that her mistress, Mrs Rutledge, has been murdered and there are only servants in the house. Unable to withstand the girl's pleas, Richard allows himself to be drawn back to the scene of his terrifying experience. While they are waiting for the police to arrive, the girl, Nora, asks Richard to conceal a package for her, insisting that its contents are her own property and no-one else's business. To Richard's surprise and relief, one of the summoned policeman is an old acquaintance, Peter Clancy, a young man with ambitions as a detective. He and his superior, Captain O'Malley, take charge of the case, with the doctor determining that Mrs Rutledge was stabbed to death by a left-handed person. Meanwhile, Richard - who is left-handed - has realised to his horror that he left evidence of his presence at the scene of the murder...

It is hard not to think of Lee Thayer's 1920 work, The Unlatched Door, as a novel of second thoughts. Thayer's first novel, The Mystery Of The Thirteenth Floor, which was published the year before, featured a pair of unlikely amateur detectives in the shape of a the late-middle-aged law clerk, Mr Gregory, and a young scrub known only as "Peter the office boy" - who I stigmatised at the time as speaking "a horrifying mixture of Irish and East Side". Though only twelve months have passed in real time, here we recognise in the red-haired, blue-eyed young police officer Peter Clancy that very same young scrub - and if the East Side has faded, the Irish hasn't. Captain O'Malley and Peter begin their investigation by questioning the occupants of the house: Nora; the cook, Sarah, in whom O'Malley recognises a woman with a criminal history and many dubious acquaintances; and Miss MacLeod, the housekeeper who has been with the family since she was Hamilton Rutledge's nurse. It soon emerges that the marriage of the socially prominent Rutledge and the beautiful Spanish heiress was not a success; and that by the time of Mrs Rutledge's death, both had sought consolation elsewhere. Mrs Rutledge was notoriously involved with the parasitic Cuthbert Pendleton, with whom she dined and went to the theatre on the night of her death; while Mr Rutledge, in spite of his violent jealousy over his wife, was conducting a more discreet relationship with the actress Alice Dalton. It was common knowledge that Mrs Rutledge had kept a tight grip upon her vast fortune - but also that, in the absence of any close friends or relatives, Rutledge was likely to inherit her entire estate should anything happen to her. In light of this, the police are inclined to take Rutledge's extravagant grief with a grain of salt.

Meanwhile, Richard is growing increasingly apprehensive over Nora's situation. It is clear to him, although he says nothing, that the girl is not who she seems. For one thing, her Irish accent comes and goes according to whom she is speaking; for another, various circumstances suggest that the relationship between Nora and Mrs Rutledge was not merely that of maid and mistress. By the time he is called upon to give his own, somewhat edited version of the events that involved him in the murder, the package that Nora has entrusted to him is beginning to burn a hole in Richard's pocket... The Unlatched Door resembles The Mystery Of The Thirteenth Floor in the fact that it is quite as interested in the effect upon the innocent bystander of being caught in the cross-fire of a murder as it is in the solution of the crime. As much as anything, this a character study of Richard Van Loo Schuyler, following him as the terror of his accidental brush with violent death and his growing attraction to Nora combine to force him to grow up - rather belatedly, we might feel, but better late than never. Though making no bones about Richard's spoiled and privileged existence, the text also makes it clear that there is better stuff in him, which his comfortable life has never called forth. There is amused sympathy in the account of the drunken blunder that causes him to stumble into the murder in the first place, and his panicky flight from the scene of the crime. It is clear enough to the reader- indeed, it is even clear to Richard - that what he ought to do the next morning is make a clean breast of it to the police; but when the moment for honesty arrives, Richard has taken charge of Nora's mysterious package, and sworn that he will keep silent about it; and in his concern about her strange behaviour, briefly loses sight of the precariousness of his own situation - at least until he discovers at the scene of the crime an in-sole from one of his sodden pumps, lost while he was struggling with his shoes the night before. Given no chance to carry away the incriminating object, he tries to hide it instead, but knows that it is only a matter of time before the police discover it. It is Peter Clancy who does so - and who also noticed Richard's attempt to conceal it...

As a novel, The Unlatched Door is both interesting and exasperating - sometimes both at once. Again in an American novel of this vintage, the class-consciousness, both explicit and implicit, is striking. For one thing, although Richard and Peter are supposed to be friends, and although Richard always says "Peter", the young policeman never calls the heir to the Schuyler fortune anything but "Sir". Early on, too, Richard surprises himself by involuntarily calling Nora "Miss Brady" - and then gives himself a lecture about "forgetting the social distinctions". Of course, Richard's instinctive mannerliness towards this apparent servant is enough to clue the reader in as to at least one of the secrets she is keeping, and it comes as little surprise when she is belatedly revealed as a member of Richard's own social set, but penniless and almost alone in the world. And while Nora's determination to support herself by her own labour rather than batten on her friends has the desirable effect of making Richard ashamed of his own wasteful, pleasure-seeking existence, I would have liked this novel a lot better if Nora - I beg her pardon, Miss Eleanor Wentworth - had turned out to be exactly who and what she first appeared. (I could have done without yet another instance of the "She's beautiful, therefore she is innocent" argument, too.) Part of the entertainment of The Unlatched Door lies in Lee Thayer's tying of the novel to its series predecessor. Apart from the reconfiguring of "Peter the office boy", there is a reference in passing to Mr Gregory, while Jimmie Stone, the falsely accused suspect of the earlier book, turns out to be a friend of Richard's as well as Peter's mentor. The Unlatched Door also connects to the earlier novel inasmuch as it shows a similar disinterest in "playing fair" with the reader: the policemen investigating the murder discover clues they do not share; and while it is possible to guess the murderer, it cannot be worked out from the text. Nevertheless, this novel does answer for my call for an American mystery series that has the police for its heroes. Unlike most of its contemporary mystery novels - and, indeed, unlike The Mystery Of The Thirteenth Floor - The Unlatched Door expresses faith in both the honesty and the competence of the NYPD.

"My God!" he breathed chokingly, and drew back his hand. For a long moment he sat as if turned to ice. Then slowly his thoughts began to stir again.---He was Richard Schuyler.---He had come home---had found the door unlatched.---He had come in and sat down on the settle as he had so often done before.---He had put out his hand for his own sane and familiar shoes---and had touched something---something soft and smooth as velvet---but cold---cold with a clammy horror that chilled the very marrow of his bones...

Jun 14, 2012, 11:24pm Top

The Underwood Mystery - Successful private investigator John Bartley and his assistant, Pelt, are enjoying a golfing holiday in a resort area of Rhode Island when they are summoned to the summer residence of the Wall Street financier, John Underwood, who has been found shot dead in his library. The doors and windows were both found fastened, suggesting suicide, but the absence of the weapon points to murder. No motive is evident in either case. Underwood was recently and to all accounts happily married a beautiful former actress many years his junior; and while there was some tension between the financier and Robert, his son from his first marriage, after the boy was expelled from Yale, the trouble was not considered serious. However, Underwood's private secretary, Vance, claims to have overheard a violent quarrel between Robert and his father the night before. Furthermore, a large sum of money is missing from the study - while much of the disagreement between Robert and his father was due to the boy's gambling habit. A gun is later found hidden in Robert's room, but so poorly that Bartley is inclined to consider it a point in the boy's favour; and when he returns to the house, his grief upon learning of his father's death and the frank answers he gives to Bartley's questions make a favourable impression. Robert tells Bartley that for the past few months, he thought something was preying on his father's mind; an observation confirmed by Underwood's elderly butler. At the inquest, both Vance and Mrs Underwood testify that Underwood meant to cut Robert out of his will: an assertion that an unfinished letter found on Underwood's desk seems to confirm. However, Phelps, Underwood's attorney and the executor of his enormous estate, says he knows nothing of any proposed change. When Bartley suggests that a will subsequent to the one held by Phelps may have been made, if not notorised, Underwood's safe is searched. No will is found, but Bartley's interest is caught by a small notebook filled with figures indicating that Underwood was the target of blackmail...

Published in 1921, The Underwood Mystery is an encouraging first entry in Charles J. Dutton's series of mysteries featuring private detective John Bartley. The novel seems to open as a classic locked-room mystery, then immediately undercuts itself via the missing weapon - transforming an apparent suicide into murder, only to later raise the spectre of suicide again when it is revealed that one of the first people into the room managed to conceal and then smuggle the gun away. The puzzle of John Underwood's death is one that becomes more and not less confusing as Bartley's investigation proceeds, as it slowly becomes clear that the mystery surrounding his death is only one of several working itself out beneath the Underwood roof. Though circumstances point to Robert as the guilty party - and while the local police, having made up their minds as to the boy's guilt, do not bother to investigate further - Bartley is soon convinced that the matter is not so simple, nor indeed simple at all.

Bartley and Pelt are invited to stay at the house while the investigation is under way, and on their first night Pelt hears a noise that he follows to the library, where in the darkness he struggles with and is struck down by an intruder. Although at first a break-in is suspected, Bartley points out that Pelt was hit with the heavy inkwell from John Underwood's desk: the only convenient weapon in the study, but one which the assailant must have known how to locate in the dark. A discrepancy between Vance's original account of the night of the murder and the testimony he gives at the inquest catches Bartley's attention, while his assertion that Underwood quarrelled with Robert is contradicted by Williams, the butler, who insists he heard a woman in the study. As for Mrs Underwood, local gossip has been busy with her friendship with the dramatist and actor, Arthur Ransome, who has taken a cottage for the summer near to the Underwood house, raising the question of just who John Underwood did mean to cut out of his will - while a partly overheard conversation on a foggy night suggests a hidden connection between Ransome and Vance, whose strange behaviour has already attracted Bartley's attention...

John Bartley's expert untangling of the many threads of this mystery - only a few of which I've touched upon here - is only one of the points of interest of The Underwood Mystery. When the story opens, Bartley is already well-established as a famous and successful private detective, and when Mrs Underwood decides she wants someone other than the police to investigate her husband's death (chiefly, it is implied, because of the suicide clause in his insurance policy), Bartley's is the first and only name that comes to mind. Nevertheless, Bartley is not the most likeable of individuals, being much given to superior smiling and sarcasm, and often impatient and even rude in his treatment of others. He also treats potential clients with a high hand, brushing them off if he doesn't consider their problems sufficiently interesting - as here, when he waves away a request to investigate a jewel theft at the house of one of Underwood's neighbours, sending in Pelt for a token interview instead.

And indeed, in Pelt we have one of this novel's most striking features: a rare example, in a work of this vintage, of a professional detective hiring an assistant - and not just for the author's benefit, so that there is someone around to narrate the story (which Pelt does), but so that the detective himself doesn't have to waste his time doing crap leg work. Thus, to Pelt falls tedious but necessary business like chasing down serial numbers, investigating license plates, and interviewing gun salesmen, while Bartley pursues his own, more cerebral lines of investigation. The Underwood Mystery is also informative on the question of evidence: here, in 1921, we hear about gunshot residue, how to tell whether a gun has been fired recently, and the restrictions on the purchase of a gun, but no-one thinks of fingerprints. Finally, this novel registers a protest over many important legal appointments being political rather than a case of the best man for the job. Bartley is scathing on this subject, criticising the local district attorney, coroner and chief of police as a combination of "the Peter Principle" and "jobs for the boys"; and while he does acknowledge the general competence of the ordinary policeman, when it comes to serious crime Bartley has no doubt at all of the wisdom of calling in a private detective - and still less of the wisdom of calling in John Bartley...

For a second after the door closed Bartley stood by the desk, simply giving one quick look around the room; a look that rested for a moment on the face of each one of us, and then passed on to the next. What was he thinking of? I would have given a good deal to know. His features showed that he was tired; but he was no longer the Bartley that they had seen and talked with during the past few days. I think they all recognized that. It was a new Bartley that stood before them; not the man that had laughed and smiled with them, but the man that was called the shrewdest criminal detective in the country.

Jun 15, 2012, 3:37am Top

Green Talons - On the October night on which the Winter Palace in Petrograd is captured, Nikolai Ivanovitch Gorev, a half-English, half-Russian army officer, discovers that his guardian, Count Marakov, has been murdered. Terrified that he will be blamed, Nikolai quickly secures from the hidden compartment that concealed it from those who ransacked the house the Count's most treasured possession, a small, sealed package containing the precious Marakov diamonds, and vanishes into the night... Six years later, criminologist Professor Luther Bastion and his friend, Major Kettering-Bevis, are abruptly confronted by an old colleague, Adrien Lebas, who brings them the shocking news of the reappearance of the master-criminal known as "the Hawk", whose symbol is an ivory jeton, or casino chip, engraved in green with the image of a bird of prey. Beginning in 1914, the capital cities of Europe were terrorised by the activities of a criminal syndicate specialising in jewel theft and extortion, but which did not hesitate to kill to achieve its ends. The outbreak of war curtailed, though it did not end, the Hawk's activities, and then came word that he had been killed - but no-one knew for sure. The mark of the green talons has now been found in Paris, upon the body of Baltasar Mayorga, an Argentinian businessman who had been robbed and murdered, and in the ruins of a derailed train that had been carrying bullion... As the forces of law and order join together - Lebas of the Sûreté, Burchell of Scotland Yard, Inspector Daumier of the Cannes police, and the terrifying Russian, Maximov - word of the Hawk's resurrection begins to spread: to Darya Vanskaya, a former dancer forced against her will to act for the Hawk, and as a consequence almost shot as a spy; and to Inspector Frant of the C.I.D., who survived a close encounter with the Hawk and is now a dangerous obsessive with his nerves in shreds... A chance encounter suggests to Bastion that the Hawk may be in Cannes, and in deadly pursuit of Nikolai Gorev; but what connection could there be between the master-criminal and the penniless young Anglo-Russian now employed as secretary, translator and dog-walker to a society hostess?

Gavin Holt, aka Percival Charles Rodda, was born in South Australia, and got his professional start in journalism. Later emigrating to the US, he worked as a music critic during the 1920s before finally settling in England. Holt published one novel under his own name while still living in Australia, The Fortunes Of Geoffrey Mayne; both this and his second, The Scarlet Mask, published in England in 1926, are tales of bushrangers. In 1927, using the name Gavin Holt, he turned his hand to writing mysteries and thrillers. Eyes In The Night is a stand-alone, but in 1928, in Six Minutes Past Twelve, Holt created the criminologist Professor Luther Bastion, and soon found both critical approval and financial success.

Holt's novels are not at all easy to get hold of, and I was forced to pick up the Luther Bastion series at its third entry, Green Talons, published in 1930. Fortunately, apart from some references to Adrien Lebas that makes it apparent he is a recurring character, it does not seem that it is necessary to have read the earlier series entries in order to grasp the events of the later ones. Bastion himself is an endearingly unlikely hero: a short, slightly built, balding, glasses-wearing, middle-aged academic whose interests have led him almost unwittingly into the investigation of crime. I was, I confess, given the vintage of this novel, rather worried by the discovery that Bastion is known as "an anthropologist and criminologist"; but whatever this might imply about the theory of crime across the series as a whole, here the Professor's other area of expertise shows itself only in his skill in identifying individuals by the shape of their ears: a useful ability, in a story in which a surprising number of the characters spend at least some of their time in disguise.

How prominent a part Professor Bastion usually plays in the novels in which he appears I cannot say, but here there is such a wide and varied cast of characters that Bastion - although it is he who finally penetrates the Hawk's disguise - is relegated to a supporting role in the story, which again and again switches perspective as the hunt for master-criminal goes on, and as some of those pitting their wits against the Hawk come to a sudden and gruesome end... Convinced not only that the Hawk is in Cannes, but that he is keeping a close watch upon Nikolai Gorev and anyone coming into contact with him, Professor Bastion almost drives his friend Major Bevis to distraction by, or so it seems, refusing to take any action at all, instead passing the time at the casino or the opera, or just lounging in the sun, watching the crowds go by. As it happens, Bastion has an indirect connection to Nikolai through his long friendship with the widowed Mrs Kent and her beautiful young daughter. Recently, Beatrice Kent has thrilled the social world by becoming engaged to Señor Ramon Carisimo, a South American millionaire and a friend of the late Baltasar Mayorga, who has offered a large reward for the apprehension of his murderer. Some years ago, when Mr Kent was stationed in Petrograd, the family had become acquainted with Count Marakov and his ward---and when Nikolai and Beatrice meet once again at the villa of Mrs Clisby, Nikolai's American employer, old feelings are immediately stirred...

Meanwhile, the Hawk's activities are escalating: on one hand in the form of a daring robbery and murder, on the other in the sudden, brutal deaths of two people close to him, one who might have betrayed him, the other who might have caught him. At the peak of the wave of terror, the Hawk turns to extortion, promising his potential victims their lives in exchange for an extravagant ransom - and one of those so targeted is Ramon Carisimo. As events build to a climax, Bastion stays alert, increasingly convinced that eventually there will be a moment - a false gesture, an indiscreet word - that will point him to the Hawk - and finally the moment comes. But the Professor is not the only watchful individual in Cannes; and when he finds amongst his chips at the casino an ivory disc marked with a green bird, Bastion is both frightened and exultant, knowing that he is indeed close to unmasking the Hawk, if only he can live long enough to do it.

Thrillers about criminal masterminds are not usually my cup of tea, but in Green Talons Gavin Holt creates an enjoyably convoluted tale that melds daring robberies, shocking murders, disguised investigators, innocent bystanders and red herrings so cleverly that the effect is as entertaining as it is bewildering. It even pulls off a couple of "killed before they can speak" scenes so deftly that they don't even seem like a cliché. While the interest of stories of this type can often dissipate once the villain is unmasked, my feeling is that Green Talons would reward re-reading, less for the chance to spot the clues to the Hawk's identity than to enjoy the rich irony inherent in the subplot involving Nikolai Gorev. While Europe is rocked on its heels by the Hawk, Nikolai cares only for Maximov, the Russian investigator equally notorious for the relentlessness of his pursuit and the ruthlessness of his methods. Misapprehending the circumstances of his guardian's murder, and knowing the respect and affection in which Maximov held him, Nikolai is tormented by visions of himself in the investigator's deadly grip - and so spends six years running and hiding from the one man who could really help him. Worse still, so refined is Nikolai's sense of honour that not only do the Marakov diamonds, which he views as being held in trust for the Count's son, remain untouched in spite of his often desperate personal circumstances, he doesn't even open the box to confirm that it does, in fact, contain diamonds...

Bastion looked down to restack his jetons. Sorting the colours so that he might keep account, he saw one counter that was thinner than the rest. It was cream like some of the others, but it was the cream of ivory, and on it was engraved the image of the poised Hawk. Professor Bastion had received the token of the green talons, the death spot. He had been smiling. He continued to smile.

Jun 15, 2012, 3:42am Top

Another enjoyable aspect of Green Talons: two adorable, half-grown bassets called Barney and Blimp, of whom we really don't see enough. In fact - I was actually more worried about these two and their journey home alone along roads and through traffic than I was about the reason they were going home alone in the first place: that the person walking them and his companion had been violently abducted.

I know. I'm awful.

Jun 17, 2012, 8:49am Top

#202 Did you mean the Sensation Press edition of the Octoroon? It's discounted down to £15 direct from their website with free worldwide shipping whilst the second hand editions are about £20 with shipping from the US (although shipping may cost less to Australia). The Sensation Press edition also apparently includes an extra chapter missing from the American editions. £15 seems like quite a lot for a 211 page book but I'm tempted...

#203 Eek!

#204 |"In the hall, he stops without bothering with the lights to remove his sodden shoes - only to put his hand upon something in the darkness that sends cold chills down his spine. Striking a match, Richard discovers to his horror that a dead woman lies at his feet in a pool of blood." *shudders*

"I could have done without yet another instance of the "She's beautiful, therefore she is innocent" argument, too." Perhaps this is unfair but it annoys me a lot more when a female author uses this argument than if a male author uses it (because a woman should know better).

#206 "Thrillers about criminal masterminds are not usually my cup of tea" I have a strange soft spot for the early twentieth century ones for some reason. I really liked Christie's The Big Four for example.

#207 :-)

Jun 17, 2012, 6:33pm Top

although shipping may cost less to Australia

It wouldn't. Trust me. :)

In fact, it's the shipping that dictates my shopping - I couldn't tell you how often I've baulked at listings like "$8.00 + $35.00 shipping to Australia".

Likewise, the old copies of The Octoroon are less expensive than the Sensation Press version, but it will end up being the shipping that decides it.

it annoys me a lot more when a female author uses this argument

Oh, me too! Although I note that when they do it, they tend to have a male narrator / protagonist.

I have a strange soft spot for the early twentieth century ones

I'm more of a fan of the John Buchan "drop an ordinary person into an extraordinary situation" approach. That's why I was enjoying Patricia Wentworth's Benbow Smith series; she was doing that sort of thing particularly well.

Jun 18, 2012, 3:55pm Top

#209 *thud as Patricia Wentworth's Benbow Smith series hits my wishlist* £45 for the first in the series?! I'll pass for now...

Jun 18, 2012, 4:28pm Top

Why I *WAS* enjoying it... I got the first book quite inexpensively (certainly not £45; I must have got lucky for once), the second from the library; the third book, you may recall, goes from around $350.


Jun 19, 2012, 6:28pm Top

Finished The Corn King And The Spring Queen - phew! - that was quite the chunkster! This was for TIOLI #8.

Now reading Rachel Moon by Lorna Rea.

Jun 20, 2012, 6:26pm Top

Well! - belted through Rachel Moon - the consequence of being back in my comfort zone, I suppose.

Now reading Force And Fraud: A Tale Of The Bush by Ellen Davitt, from 1865, the first Australian detective novel.

Edited: Jun 23, 2012, 6:23pm Top

The Corn King And The Spring Queen - Set between 228 - 219 BC, Naomi Mitchison's sprawling 1931 novel melds a fantastical depiction of agrarian life on the shores of the Black Sea with an accurate account of the military rise and fall of Sparta under King Kleomenes (Cleomenes III). A strange mixing of magic realism and brutal reality, this is a complex, detailed, often difficult work; a novel of vivid contrasts, positioning the austerity, sacrifice and self-control of life in Sparta against the passionate emotionalism of the people of Marob, where magic is a reality and the cycle of life depends a man and a woman who are simultaneously godlike and of the earth.

In the territory of Marob, the yearly cycle of the seasons depends upon rituals enacted by the Corn King and the Spring Queen, which if executed successfully mean fertile soil and flourishing crops. Tarrik, the secular Chief of Marob, is also its god, its Corn King; and he has chosen as his Spring Queen the beautiful young Erif Der. Unbeknownst to Tarrik, Erif Der is the weapon of her father, Harn Der, who plots to use his daughter to bring down Tarrik and have himself installed as Chief and his eldest son, Yellow Bull, as Corn King. Erif Der is a witch, one of a group of Marob women who have power over both people and the natural world. Initially a willing participant in her father's schemes, doubt seizes Erif Der as her feeling for Tarrik grows, and as she witnesses the effect the corrupt use of her magic is having upon the lands and crops of Marob, and consequently its people. She nevertheless obeys her father, and through her malign interference in the yearly rituals weakens Tarrik's standing amongst his people. When Tarrik must play a leading part in the annual bull-fighting, which involves the slaughter of older animals for winter meat and a test of courage against the younger ones, Erif Der's magic puts Tarrik in desperate danger - until an unlikely intervention saves his life...

When Tarrik and his followers rescue the passengers of a foundering ship, they unknowingly usher in a time of hardship for Marob. One of those rescued is Sphaeros, a Spartan, who practices Stoicism and whose Hellenic philosophy and pragmatism denies all that the people of Marob believe - including the magic practised by Erif Der, to which as a Greek Sphaeros is immune. Seeing Tarrik in danger during the bull-fighting, Sphaeros repays the saving of his own life by intervening, and succeeds in breaking Erif Der's hold over her husband. A grateful Tarrik befriends Sphaeros, and from him learns of the Hellenic beliefs. At first attracted by these new teachings, Tarrik travels with Spaeros to Sparta, where "the New Times" have begun under King Kleomenes: a period of enforced democratisation, in which wealth is surrendered to the state for the use of all, land redistributed, and the helots, the slave class, freed and raised to citizenship. Confronted by a way of life in all aspects alien to his own, and by a philosophy that rejects all that gives his own existence meaning, upon his return to Marob Tarrik finds himself not better understanding "how to be a king", as he had hoped, but infected with uncertainty and doubt, which transmits itself to his people and the soil. Worse still is the situation of Erif Der. During Tarrik's absence she bears his child, which is killed by Harn Der in order to sever Tarrik's bloodline. In retaliation, Erif Der murders her father during the ritual of the Plowing Eve; a violent perversion of the cycle of life which severs the Spring Queen from the land and the people, and sees her self-exiled from Marob on a desperate quest to be "made clean"...

Although, in its simplest interpretation, The Corn King And The Spring Queen is the story of two contrasting kings, as this novel progresses it moves away from the fictional territory of Marob and the struggles of Tarrik in favour of a more factual account of the rule of Kleomenes. Here, the holes in the historical record give Naomi Mitchison the opportunity to create her own, idiosyncratic vision of Sparta. The depiction of Kleomenes' "New Times" is a sympathetic one, focusing upon the emotional kinship of those who devote themselves to the king's cause and the freeing of the helots, and down-playing the ruthless methods by which Kleomenes imposes his will. It is a story of triumph and destruction, which allows a convincing portrait of Spartan life during this period of transition to emerge: a realm devoted to discipline and order, where the individual is lost in the state; where wealth, and the beauty and luxury it can purchase, becomes the enemy; and where love between men is taken for granted, and marriage with a woman a thing besides, meant for the begetting of children. This section of the novel is seen through the eyes of Philylla, a young handmaiden to Queen Agiatis and a passionate believer in the New Times, who marries Kleomenes' lover, the warrior-poet, Panteus, knowing that she will hold second place in his affections. After the disastrous battle of Sellasia, a desperate Kleomenes travels to Egypt, where he tries to enlist the help of the corrupt Ptolemy. It is also in Egypt that Erif Der, having helped Philylla to flee Sparta and the new regime, finds resolution in her quest, freeing herself from the unclean past and reuniting with Tarrik; the Corn King and his Spring Queen returning to Marob to usher in a new era of prosperity, even as Sparta crumbles and falls forever...

At first the Spring Queen said nothing. She seemed asleep. Then she raised her head a little from her knees and began to answer: "Though you plow the field it is not your field. Why should the field hear? The closed soil has no pleasure of the plow, and cold and hard it will be to the seed. Why should the spring come?" But the people of Marob cried at her softly from the edges of the field: "Spring Queen, be kind, be kind!" So they went on until the middle of the afternoon. Tarrik was the plow, the seed, the warmth and force of growth. Erif was the hard, fallow field; the cold, reluctant spring...

Edited: Jun 23, 2012, 6:26pm Top

Rachel Moon - The young Rachel Moon is an extremist, revelling in the highs and lows of life and rejecting anything resembling mediocrity or compromise. So when word reaches Rachel at her finishing school in Switzerland that her mother has suffered a sudden, incapacitating stroke, the girl has no doubt of the correct thing for her to do: she must give up everything - her schooling, her music, her social life - and devote herself to her mother's care; paying no heed whatsoever to either medical opinion, which insists that the stricken Mary Moon is oblivious to her daughter's presence, or the pragmatism of her father, who argues that there is nothing Rachel can do that professional nurses won't do better. Rachel insists, however, and in pursuit of a quiet and ordered life, Mr Moon gives way... Compelled against her will to take a holiday, Rachel visits the Devonshire house of her cousins, where she is introduced to the rising young scientist, Clive Bardsley. The two of them fall in love and become engaged. Clive tells Rachel frankly that his financial situation means that he will not be able to marry her for several years. Rachel assures him that she is willing to wait, and that she could not, in any event, immediately give up her own duties; only dimly recognising that the distance of their marriage prospects is part of the attraction. Time passes, with no alteration in Mrs Moon's condition; but Rachel clings to her belief that her mother will recover, at least enough to know her, and progressively takes more and more of her care upon her own shoulders. At last, however, a crisis is reached, when Clive is offered a high-paid position in Zurich, and insists upon Rachel marrying him immediately...

After winning critical acclaim with her first work, Six Mrs Greenes, a collection of interlocking short stories, Lorna Rea brought people up short with this strange and extremely uncomfortable novel. Published in 1931, Rachel Moon challenges the reader in a variety of ways - perhaps most of all in its absence of sympathetic characters. At the heart of this novel is the wrenching situation of Mary Moon, and the forced readjustments of her family in the wake of the tragedy that has left this vital, good-hearted woman not dead, but not alive, either. Medical opinion is that she is beyond the need of anything but basic physical care, and on the strength of this both the victim's husband and her younger daughter choose to move on with their lives; but always there is Rachel, keeping alive the survivors' guilt with her passionate insistence upon her mother's awareness of her family's neglect.

And indeed, the reader may well feel that Mr Moon and Perdita move on a little too easily, too quickly block the unresponsive woman in the room upstairs from their consciousness. Of Mr Moon's profound and fundamental selfishness, we are left in no doubt. A picture of the marriage emerges in which Mrs Moon is less a wife than a combined housekeeper and nanny, ensuring her husband a calm and ordered existence, and forming a comfortable barrier between him and the children in whom he has little interest. Once he is assured that his own life will not be disrupted, that others - servants, nurses, his daughter - will keep his household running, the loss of his wife seems to affect him not at all. Similarly, we might be inclined to agree with Rachel's accusation of heartlessness, when Perdita recoils from her stricken mother and refuses even to enter her room. Yet Rachel's immediate and overly enthusiastic self-abnegation also gives us pause. That she wants to be of service to her mother, even if her mother is unaware of it, we can understand and appreciate; but over time the egotism behind the facade of selflessness becomes apparent. Rachel is, in fact, quite determined to be a martyr, and nothing angers her so much as a suggestion that there is not the least necessity for it.

Rachel Moon is a discomforting portrait of a warped personality; although the time that we spend viewing events from within Rachel's consciousness serves temporarily to conceal just how warped. Eventually, however, the growing distance between Rachel's perception of the world and its actuality becomes unnervingly clear; and when she is forced to choose between the two, Rachel seizes avidly upon her own version of reality, clinging to it even as she progressively alienates the people who care about her. The voluntary nature of her delusion makes it increasingly difficult to sympathise with Rachel; yet the structure of the novel, which keeps her at its forefront and places all the other characters at a distance, held at arms-length by Rachel's hostility at what she considers their lack of understanding, leaves the reader with nowhere else to turn. However, the overriding problem here is that we are never given any real reason why Rachel is the way she is; her emotional extremism is a fait accompli when the novel opens, and simply deepens as the circumstances of her life make a complete surrender possible. The end result is something resembling an uncompleted horror story: disturbing, yet ultimately unsatisfactory.

The thought of Perdita jolted Rachel into anger. That at this late moment Perdita should offer to do her plain duty, callously neglected for eighteen months; that Clive should think Rachel so easily replaceable, so unimportant in the scheme of things: that Perdita should be won over by Clive, though she had responded only with defiance to Rachel's far more urgent and authoritative appeal. Here was food for suffering. Here was the very meat and drink for angry brooding. How could they imagine---her angry thoughts bracketed Clive and Perdita---that a few hours here and there, a little less liberty for one sister, a little more for the other, would simplify the situation? How could they imagine that she would willingly relinquish her sole responsibility and let three share as a duty what was the privilege and life work of one?

Jun 23, 2012, 4:03pm Top

#214 & 215 Two good reviews of what sound like two good but challenging books. I'll look our for the Mitchison, not sure about Rachel Moon. It sounds like it could be quite an unpleasant read in a lot of ways.

You're up to date with your reviews! Woo hoo!

Jun 23, 2012, 6:30pm Top

I am - whoo!!

"Challenging" is a good description of The Corn King And The Spring Queen. I struggled with it, but through no fault of the book's own, just because of its length and the distance it carried me out of my normal comfort zone.

I enjoyed - "enjoyed" isn't really the right word - Rachel Moon; it's well-written and effective; but there's something missing in it.

Jun 24, 2012, 10:44pm Top

Finished Force And Fraud: A Tale Of The Bush - a murder mystery, but not a detective to be seen.

Now reading The Pleasantries Of Old Quong, a collection of short stories from 1931 by Thomas Burke.

Jun 26, 2012, 6:36pm Top

Finished The Pleasantries Of Old Quong.

Now reading At The Villa Rose by A. E. W. Mason, the first of his Inspector Hanaud mysteries, from 1910.

Edited: Jun 27, 2012, 12:24am Top

Force And Fraud: A Tale Of The Bush – Although as a young man he lived a fairly reckless life, including wasting most of his fortune, since meeting Flora McAlpin at the resort in Baden where she was staying with her mother, Herbert Lindsay’s only thought has been to settle down and earn an income sufficient to support her. Before her death, Mrs McAlpin gives her blessing to the couple’s engagement. However, when Lindsay follows Flora to Australia, where she is reunited with her estranged father, a wealthy landowner in a bush district some distance from Melbourne, he finds himself confronted by a formidable enemy. Considering Lindsay not good enough for his daughter, Angus McAlpin refuses his consent to their marriage and encourages other men to court her. He gives his personal blessing to Pierce Silverton, his agent; but Silverton is a friend and confidante of Lindsay and knows that he has no chance with Flora. Receiving Flora’s promise that she will marry him as soon as she is of age, Lindsay sets out to establish himself as an artist, and begins to win both success and a reputation. He is working on water-colour bush scenes near to Mount Alpin when he encounters Harry Saunders, a labourer employed by McAlpin. The good-natured Saunders takes a liking to the artist and agrees to pose for him, during which process he notices bloodstains on one of Lindsay’s cuffs: a fact which takes on a sinister significance when Angus McAlpin is soon afterwards found murdered – stabbed to death…Although Saunders decides to say nothing about his observation, a search of the scene of the crime finds further evidence against Herbert Lindsay, including a blood-stained handkerchief and a knife. Confronted by the police, Lindsay admits that the knife is his, but insists that everything can be explained by his having assisted a passing bushman who had cut himself with his axe. No other witness can be found who saw the bushman, and Lindsay is committed to stand trial. This news brings Flora out of the state of shock induced by her father’s murder, and she vows that she will do everything in her power to prove her lover’s innocence; while Lindsay’s other friends rally to his cause and begin a desperate search for new evidence to exonerate him. After visiting Lindsay in prison, Flora travels to Melbourne to hire a lawyer to defend him. She is accompanied in her journey by Pierce Silverton, who in spite of his belief in Lindsay’s innocence cannot help but think what the artist’s conviction might mean to him

Force And Fraud is not in fact “the first Australian detective novel” – there’s nary a detective to be seen – but on the other hand, it is the first Australian murder mystery, and an important and too-often overlooked landmark in the development of the nation’s literature. Ellen Heseltine Davitt – the oldest sister of Anthony Trollope’s wife, Rose – emigrated to Australia with her husband, Arthur Davitt, in 1853. The two of them were involved in a variety of educational schemes, but the education system in Victoria at the time was more interested in factional in-fighting than in its students and teachers, and time again the Davitts had to pull up stakes and start over. After Arthur Davitt died in 1860, Ellen supported herself by teaching both in schools and privately; by lecturing; as an artist; and finally, like so many dispossessed women before and after her, through her writing. Force And Fraud was serialised in the newly-founded Australian Journal in 1865, and proved to be her most popular and successful work. Sadly, however, because she did publish exclusively in magazines, the majority of Ellen Davitt’s other writings have been lost. Furthermore, the fact that her works were never issued in novel form has led to her all-too-frequent omission from histories of Australian literature. Thankfully, this injustice has been addressed in recent times, firstly through the re-publication in 1993, as a novel, of Force And Fraud, and by the establishment in 2001 of the Davitt Awards, given for the best crime fiction by an Australian woman.

The early passages of Force And Fraud are spent in sketching for us the character of Herbert Lindsay who, in spite of a foolish and wasteful youth, emerges as a generous, warm-hearted and honourable man. While the circumstantial evidence against him is swift to accumulate, Lindsay’s friends won’t hear of his guilt. Their efforts to proclaim their belief in his innocence and clear his name run the gamut from verbal attacks upon the magistrate who committed him for trial – a preferred tactic of Mrs Roberts, hostess of the ‘Southern Cross’ and Lindsay’s landlady – to more practical exertions such as trying to track down the elusive bushman, who nobody else has seen. However, the trial draws inexorably closer without anything occurring to give Lindsay or his supporters hope; and in spite of the defence organised by Flora and a long list of willing character witnesses, the case for the prosecution is ominously convincing. It is not, indeed, until the trial is under way - until it has very nearly concluded – that shouts of astonishment and relief welcome the bushman, who saw one of the numerous advertisements placed by Lindsay’s friends and travelled back from New South Wales to give his testimony; testimony which (in one of the novel’s nicest touches) must be given through a translator, as the newcomer speaks only Gaelic. Lindsay’s acquittal is greeted with cheering and days of celebration; and it is not for some time that the small community is struck by the sobering thought that Angus McAlpin’s murderer is still out there…

The second half of Force And Fraud, although it does finally reveal the identity of the murderer, takes an unusual and quite leisurely path to getting there. It is, in fact, obvious from a reasonably early point in the novel who the killer must be; but exactly how and why the murder was committed (and the explanation is not straightforward) is disguised until the last; meaning that the reader is very often confused by some apparently contradictory conduct on the part of the prime suspect. Surrounding this winding central plot-thread, Force And Fraud, like many early mysteries, shows its relationship to the sensation novel very clearly, particularly with its increased focus upon the Lindsay-Flora-Silverton triangle. Pierce Silverton has tried his best to be a disinterested friend, but as his passion for Flora grows, he allows himself to comtemplate resorting to dishonourable conduct in order to secure her hand. Flora herself, ready enough to defy her father to his face over her engagement to Lindsay while he was alive, has been stricken with guilt since his murder, and insists that she and Lindsay wait a year before marrying. Lindsay reluctantly accedes, and soon afterwards leaves Mount Alpin for South Australia, where he has several lucrative commissions to fill. In his absence, Pierce Silverton begins to surrender to the worst impulses in his nature, devising schemes to ruin Lindsay in Flora’s good opinion. When circumstances conspire to suggest that Lindsay has betrayed her with another woman, Flora’s wounded pride prompts her to take a swift revenge by giving in to Silverton’s increasingly frantic pleas…

Although entertaining enough as a mystery, the real power of Force And Fraud is that – at a time when much “Australian” literature was still written with England firmly in mind – it is unashamedly an Australian story meant for an Australian audience. It is, indeed, very evident from this novel that in spite of the hardships she suffered, Ellen Davitt had taken her adopted land to her heart; and she has a few choice words for those of “the Old Country” who see fit to look down their noses at it. There is, moreover, something peculiarly appropriate in the fact that this first Australian murder mystery deals with false accusation and the trial for murder of an innocent man. In spite of the seriousness of her subject matter, Ellen Davitt maintains throughout this novel a tone of wry irony, which more often than not is used to express a healthy scepticism of the law and in particular those who enforce it: an attitude simultaneously expressing her own views (Davitt fought and lost several lawsuits for owed compensation) and appealing to the prejudices of her readers, and which could hardly be more Australian. Meanwhile, through the character of Flora, Davitt makes it clear that this new nation is no place for shrinking English violets. “People grow very independent in this colony,” Flora herself observes early on; and although for the most part she behaves like the lady she is, there is another side to her which life in this demanding country has brought into being. When news of Lindsay’s arrest reaches her, Flora’s reaction amusingly separates her from her sensation-novel sisters:

…for Miss McAlpin, instead of falling senseless on the ground, stamped her foot, clenched her hand, and exclaimed in an angry tone, ”Who dares to attribute such a crime to Mr Lindsay?”

While this novel’s target audience freed Ellen Davitt from the need for “travelogue” writing, it nevertheless reveals many fascinating details about life in Melbourne and its surrounds in the 1860s, particularly concerning transportation, accommodation, and clothing. Most attractive of all, however, are Davitt’s descriptions of the bush, which capture both the harshness and the beauty of the Australian landscape, and remind us that she, like Herbert Lindsay, was an artist.

And now the time appointed for his trial was drawing near, and the danger of his situation increasing, not merely because the approach of the catastrophe painted each circumstance in more vivid colours, but the danger really was greater, for through link after link was added to the chain of evidence against him; there seemed to be no witness on the other hand who could break these links asunder. It was true that numerous friends were ready to vouch for his honour – his humanity – his Christian principles – but what would they avail if the jury should pronounce him Guilty?

Edited: Jun 27, 2012, 6:52pm Top

Just a heads-up:

Some time back, Peggy (LizzieD) and I had a difference of opinion over Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend...which ground to a halt when we realised that we were neither of us quite sure of our memories, or consequently the accuracy of the points we were trying to make!

We agreed then that we both needed to re-read OMF before we could finish our discussion. So come July, we will be setting up a thread in which to compare notes.

Others are welcome to join in with comments or questions - the more, the merrier! - but please note that this is not a conventional group read: Peggy and I may be discussing the novel in a way that will constitute spoilers for new readers. However, we will take care to identify which chapters we are talking about, so that others have the chance to avoid those posts.

Jun 28, 2012, 6:31pm Top

Finished At The Villa Rose, which slotted into TIOLI #13 - review to come.

I've now started my re-reading of Our Mutual Friend.

Jun 29, 2012, 7:47pm Top

The Pleasantries Of Old Quong (US title: A Tea-Shop In Limehouse) - Thomas Burke was a British writer who in 1916 found both fame and notoriety with a collection of short stories called Limehouse Nights. Critics were outraged by Burke’s frank accounts of the poverty, brutality and squalor of life in London’s East End – and even more so by his casual depiction of relationships between Asian men and Caucasian women, which resulted in the book being banned in a number of territories. Finding himself the target of journalistic scrutiny, Burke responded by spinning a romanticised version of his early life (which, however, seems to have been taken at face value at the time), describing a youth spent in opium dens at the feet of Chinese “philosophers” from whom he learned the secrets of the inscrutable East. In particular, Burke insisted upon his close friendship with an elderly Chinese shopkeeper called Quong Lee, who appears in one capacity or another in a number of Burke’s early works, including the collection of short stories gathered together under the title The Pleasantries Of Old Quong.

Published in 1931, this volume has a preface in which the unnamed narrator describes his friend Mr Quong as having been ”...so long in England that he knows far more about us English than I like any foreigner to know” - intimating, rightly, that criticism had not stopped Thomas Burke from drawing unflattering pictures of English life and the English people. The tales that follow are, we are assured, not the narrator’s own work, but what he has managed to extract from his elderly friend’s leisurely and wandering reminiscences; each is prefaced by a short piece of philosophical reflection, which is then illustrated by the story that is then presented. The narrator describes the end result as a collection of “fables”, which is not inappropriate. While their tone varies wildly from the wryly humorous to the frankly horrific, ultimately each one of Old Quong’s “pleasantries” is an ironic rumination upon the human condition.

The Pleasantries Of Old Quong offers sixteen fables of various types and purposes. The Case Of Valentine Thrill and An Angel Unawares tell of moments that change lives – in both cases the agent of change being oblivious to the consequences of his actions. We Are The Music-Makers and The Secret Of Francesco Shedd deal with the disappointment of dreams unfulfilled, while The Shadow And The Bone and The Sweet Enemy illustrate the still greater disappointment that can result from dreams coming true. John Brown’s Body gives us revenge served very cold indeed, while in contrast The Ministering Angel finds a worm turning in a sudden and shockingly unexpected way. Several of these tales might be fairly classified as horror stories, including The Yellow Imps and Desirable Villa, which find their central characters confronted by supernatural manifestations, either real or in the mind.

The jewel in the crown of this collection, however, is The Hands Of Mr Ottermole, the story of a community terrorised by a serial killer. While Thomas Burke, his fictional alter-ego and the urbane Mr Quong have been largely forgotten, this disturbing tale has won a lasting fame, routinely appearing on “Best Detective / Crime / Horror Stories” lists, being repeatedly anthologised, and in 1957 being adapted as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents...where unforgivably, they tampered with it, probably because of the censorship requirements of the time. Find and read the story instead!

He told me these fables in the back-room of that tea-shop---a room that is a salad of Kwang Tung village and Cockney slum, and reeks of fried fish, cinnamon, Gold Flake tobacco, gin-seng and the sea. They could have been told in five minutes, but they were not; his narrative method is not yours or mine, but rather that of the after-dinner speaker. Although their narration was in no way interrupted, each of them filled three or four hours of an evening, their narration being itself only a sequence of interruptions to his large and opulent silences. They came out in odd strips, like cuttings from an unseen length of material. They came in phrases that were half-formed, and that bore to English only the likeness that the Scottish dialect bears to the Scandinavian tongues...

Jun 29, 2012, 8:49pm Top

Liz - I will join you and Peggy for a re-read of OMF as it is years since I had the pleasure of its company. You may have noticed that Lucy set up a listmania thread wherein lists have been compiled of favourite novels from 2012 back as far as people can go. I would love to see your list especially pre-war and 19th century as I get so many great book ideas and reminders from the reading over here. Have a lovely weekend and I hope it is not too chilly over there.

Jun 29, 2012, 9:01pm Top

Actually, it's freezing...and all the colder for having to listen to my American friends complain about the heat! Life must be so much simpler near the equator... :)

Thrilled to have you join us for OMF, Paul! Nice to have another re-reader, too, so we don't have to worry so much about spoilers! I'll be setting up the thread tomorrow, and I'll look forward to seeing you there.

Yes, I've been looking at everyone's lists and boggling over the thought of what mine might look like. The only thing I know for sure is that they would tail off exactly where most people's begin! I'm not sure I'm up to the task of putting something like that together, but I'll give it some thought.

Jun 29, 2012, 9:19pm Top

Hahaha Liz - I must admit that I had a lot more choices pre-war than I had for 2006-2011!

Jun 29, 2012, 9:38pm Top

I did read contemporary novels, up to about the middle of the 1980s...and it was in about the middle of the 1980s that I first got access to an academic library, and a boundless collection of old books: classic at first, then increasingly obscure... Somehow, contemporary fiction lost its appeal. :)

Jun 29, 2012, 11:07pm Top

At The Villa Rose (aka Murder At The Villa Rose) - The French resort of Aix-les-Bains is rocked by the news of the shocking murder of the wealthy Madame Camille Dauvray, and the disappearance of her companion, Celia Harland. The cosmopolitan Mr Julius Ricardo is confronted by Harry Wethermill, a young Englishman, who tells him that the famous Inspector Hanaud of the Sûreté, an acquaintance of them both, is holidaying in Aix. Wethermill asks Ricardo to accompany him as, believing Celia Harland to be a victim rather than a party to the crime, he intends to ask Hanaud to take charge of the case. Hanaud agrees to investigate, but warns Wethermill that once he begins, he will not stop no matter where the trail leads. At the Villa Rose, where Mme Dauvray was brutally strangled, her safe emptied and her room ransacked, everything seems to point to Celia's guilt. There is no sign of a break-in; the chauffeur was away visiting his parents, at Celia's suggestion; and Celia's foorprints are found outside the house, leading to the garage from which a car is missing. The maid, Helen Vauquier, who was found by the first officer on the scene bound and chloroformed, speaks bitterly of Celia's influence over Mme Dauvray, which she maintained by conducting "séances" for the credulous woman. However, when he examines the small room in which a seance was conducted the night before - and where Mme Dauvray's body was found - Hanaud is visibly disturbed. Though neither Ricardo nor Wethermill, looking on, understand the reason for it, they see that something has shaken Hanaud's belief in Celia's guilt - either the two crumpled cushions at either end of the settee, one of which is marked with a small bloodstain, or the torn piece of paper bearing in what looks like Celia's writing the words, Je ne sais pas: I do not know...

Among the first to write a series of mysteries featuring a detective as a recurring character, perhaps the most interesting thing about A. E. W. Mason's novels is that, although English, he chose to make his detective a Frenchman and set some of his stories in France. Mason himself was quite frank about his intentions when he created Inspector Gabriel Hanaud: he wanted, he said, as much of a contrast as possible to the "superhuman passionless amateur" who dominated detective fiction during the early 20th century, thanks to the success of Sherlock Holmes. Thus, Hanaud is a professional, a member of the Parisian Sûreté; a physically powerful man who at one point is compared to "a big Newfoundland dog"; a thinker who hides a shrewd brain behind an innocuous exterior that makes him look like "a prosperous comedian"; and a man much given to outbursts and mood swings, as various facets of his cases affect him. At The Villa Rose, the novel that introduced Hanaud, is very much a product of its time, which is both its main attraction and an occasional irritant. It does offer a vivid sketch of life among the wealthy and leisured at the turn of the last century: a world in which only a few can afford a car and the horse-drawn carriage is still common, and no lady or gentleman is without at least one servant in attendance - and where crime-fighters have new weapons in their armory like the telegraph. It is also a world in which we find marginal hangers-on like Celia Harland, reduced to near-starvation and offering dances in exchange for meals when she is found, pitied, and taken home by the good-natured Mme Dauvray; a revelation that adds an appalling ingratitude to Celia's other apparent crimes.

Certainly, in the early stages of the investigation everything seems to point to Celia's guilt. Testimony gathered from Helen Vauquier, the maid, Alphonse Servettaz, the chauffeur, and Sergeant Perrichet, the officer who discovered the crime, makes it clear that someone inside the Villa Rose admitted the intruders. Furthermore, the maid describes Celia as dressing the evening before as though "she was going to meet her lover": an assertion that is bitter gall for Harry Wethermill. However, doubt grows in Hanaud's mind first when he examines the scene of the previous evening's séance, where the body was found, still more when he sees the wreckage of Mme Dauvray's bedroom. The safe, in which Helen Vauquier testifies that Mme Dauvray locked up her abundant jewellery even night, is open and empty; but if the thieves found the jewels, why was the room torn to pieces? Slowly, a different version of events begins to take shape in Hanaud's mind, based upon a single inconsistency in the witness testimony: an alternative theory that finds him pitting his wits against a ruthless criminal gang, and conducting a desperate race against time in order to save a life...

A number of studies of the detective novel consider At The Villa Rose a landmark work, but while it is certainly historically important, as a novel it is perhaps more interesting than great. Detective fiction was still in a state of evolution in 1910, and At The Villa Rose reflects that in its structure, which like a number of works from this period has the mystery solved at approximately the three-quarters mark, and then appends a lengthy recapitulation of the crime reconstructed from Hanaud's deductions, the confessions of certain parties, and the sworn testimony of certain others. Another problem with this novel's approach, one by no means confined to this early phase of detective fiction, is that Julius Ricardo - who does not actually narrate, but from whose perspective the story is told - has no business being anywhere near the investigation: Hanaud just lets him tag alone, a decision that grows increasingly puzzling, particularly when it finds Ricardo present during a dangerous police raid of a house believed to be the hide-out of some of the wanted criminals. The dubiously credentialled narrator is, of course, a recurrent detective novel problem, which not all of them solve satisfactorily, if at all. The only explanation for Hanaud's tolerance of Ricardo's presence is, indeed, not one that necessarily endears him to the reader. A. E. W. Mason's objection to "passionless" detectives may very well have determined him upon a French hero, since the emotionalism that is such a defining characteristic of Hanaud would, no doubt, have been considered absurd and embarrassing in an Englishman. Likewise, there is no denying that Hanaud is more than a bit of a show-off - or that the attraction of Julius Ricardo is that he gives Hanaud someone to show off to...

"The case is dark, monsieur, I warn you... Understand this in the first place. There was an accomplice in the villa. Someone let the murderers in. There is no sign of an entrance being forced; no lock was picked. there is no sign of a thumb on any panel, no sign of a bolt being forced. There was an accomplice within the house. We start from that."

Edited: Jun 30, 2012, 1:22am Top

So much for June, which - not too fine a point upon the matter - was a bit of a bust. Still, looking around the threads, I am vaguely consoled by noticing quite a number of people complaining of a lack of productivity this month. Must have been something in the air.

I completed only eight books this month, a much lower number than I have been averaging. This was partly due to a lack of reading time, and partly to tackling a few chunksters - in particular, The Corn King And The Spring Queen, which on its own ate up 30% of the month.

As for TIOLI, that was mostly "leave it":

#9: The Corn King And The Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
#13: At The Villa Rose by A. E. W. Mason
#14: Clermont by Regina Maria Roche
#20: The Trail Of The Serpent by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Final breakdown:

Historical fiction: 1
Mysteries: 2
Thrillers: 1
Classics: 2
Contemporary (i.e. at time of publication) drama: 1
Short stories: 1

Series reading: 2
Viragos: 1

Oldest book: Clermont (1798)
Newest book: The Corn King And The Spring Queen / Rachel Moon / The Pleasantries Of Old Quong (1931)

Male : female author ratio: 3 : 5

Jun 30, 2012, 9:21am Top

At the Villa Rose is a freebie for Kindle. I may have to snag that one soon!

Jun 30, 2012, 5:42pm Top

Hi, Lori - thanks for stopping by! At The Villa Rose has a few issues but it is certainly worth a read.

Jun 30, 2012, 7:33pm Top

The discussion thread for Our Mutual Friend is here - hope to see you there!

Jul 1, 2012, 3:55am Top

Aaaaand right this way to the new thread---!

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2012

987 members

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